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Changing of the Guard at GITMO

29th Infantry Battalions’ Transfer Authority

Major Ed Larkin

29th ID(L) PAO

 The 29th Infantry Division (Light) continues to play a vital role on the War on Terrorism. For the last nine months, the 2/116th Infantry Battalion from the Virginia Army National secured the detention area in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On September 19, 2003 the 2/116th transferred authority and the mission to the 1/181st Infantry Battalion of the Massachusetts Army National Guard.


Both of these proud units are part of the symbolic Blue and Gray in the 29th Infantry Division shoulder patch. During the Civil War these units met during the Battle of Fredericksburg. Today, they are equal partners in a common goal to defeat terrorism. Both of these battalions have answered the call against the terrorist enemy, first after 9/11 providing soldiers for Operation Noble Eagle and today providing soldiers for Operation Enduring Freedom.


The primary mission for the Infantry soldiers of Joint Task Force Guantanamo is providing security and a quick reaction force to deal with any threats. The on ground force also uses the time for training and skills enhancement. During the 2/116th tour of duty ran the first Expert Infantry Badge (EIB) course on Guantanamo Bay and 12 soldiers earned the coveted badge. Physical fitness training and professional development by correspondence also contributed to unit and solider readiness.


“We came to Guantanamo a very good battalion and we are leaving a great battalion,” said Lt. Col. Tom Wilkinson, 2/116th commander. “This a tough mission and we really pulled together as team. I am returning with the best soldiers in the Army.”


The one thing you can count on in Cuba is hot weather. During the initial right seat / left seat ride transition training the 1/181st experienced nothing but Black Flag days – a heat stress index above 115F degrees. Summer is warm in Massachusetts, but not like this. The soldiers carry Camel Back systems on their backs as well as extra water in canteens during operations. Regardless of the heat the mission goes on.


The mission calls for around the clock operations with both mounted and dismounted patrols of the area of operations. The Ranger patrols (walking patrols) go all night and day. The Striker patrols (mounted patrols) also run 24 hours with a couple of hours of preparation and maintenance at the beginning and end of each shift.  


“The leaders and soldiers of the 2/116th have helped set us up for success,” said Lt. Col Joe Noonan. “We are going to build on the great job of the 2/116th. “I plan on taking full advantage of every training opportunity available during our time here. I am confident that our soldiers will meet the mission demands with pride and professionalism.”


The 1/181st is adjusting well to the heat, long hours and mountainous terrain of Guantanamo Bay. Brother’s Jason and Adam Thibault, both Fire Team Sergeants in B Company are happy to finally be onsite doing the mission. “We trained a lot of days and hours for this mission, said Sgt. Adam Thibault. “I know we both feel it is important we do our part and when we got the call we put all our focus in what we are doing,” said Sgt. Jason Thibault.


The 2/116th is leaving with knowing they have done great job and the 1/181st is proud to carry the flag and do their part defeating terrorism. “You should all be very proud of the excellent job you did serving your country,” said Maj. Gen. Geff Miller, Task Force Guantanamo commander. I thank the 2/116th and welcome the 181st, I know they will do a great job.”

Thursday October 02, 2003