by Tim Hennagir
Members of the Monticello-based 257th Military Police Company will make history with their nine-month deployment to Cuba.
More than 120 soldiers from 90 Minnesota communities are getting ready to travel to the oldest U.S. military base overseas and only base located within a Communist country. Two of the soldiers are from Elk River, and two others are from Otsego. There’s also one from Zimmerman and three from Ramsey.
The unit’s deployment represents the first time a Minnesota National Guard unit has deployed to U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, which is located on the southeast corner of Cuba.
Family, friends and other well-wishers packed the auditorium at Monticello High School Saturday, Jan. 28, for the unit’s official departure ceremony.
The unit will provide safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detainees at the Joint Task Force Guantanamo detention facilities. Prior to deployment, the soldiers will receive specialized training and certifications at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas, and will receive additional on-the-job training once they arrive at the U.S. base.
The 257th Military Police Company deployed to Iraq from 2004-2005 (as D Battery, 216th Air Defense Artillery) and to Afghanistan from 2012-2013 where they were responsible for coaching, teaching and mentoring members of the Afghan National Army.
Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, or NSGB, is a United States military base located on 45 square miles of land and water at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which the U.S. leased for use as a coaling and naval station. Since 2002, the naval base has contained a military prison, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, for unlawful combatants captured in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places during the War on Terror.
In October 1962, family members of service people stationed here and many base employees were evacuated to the United States as President John Kennedy announced the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba.
This was the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which resulted in a naval quarantine of the island until the Soviet Union removed the missiles. The evacuees were allowed to return to the base by that Christmas. Another crisis arose just 14 months later on Feb. 6, 1964, when President Fidel Castro cut off water and supply avenues to the base in retaliation for several incidents involving Cuban fishermen.
For more than 40 years, Guantanamo Bay has been a self-sufficient base with its own power and water sources.
“These soldiers are about to deploy on behalf of the greatest country on the face of the planet,” said U.S. 6th District Congressman Tom Emmer during his deployment ceremony remarks. “They will protect your freedom and mine.”
While critics might to try to minimize the importance of National Guard deployments, Emmer said the 257th Military Police Company’s mission will occur in a country that’s located just 90 miles off the Florida coast.
“It’s not just the solider who wears the uniform and is deploying for the next nine to 10 months,” Emmer said. “It’s the families who they are going to leave behind. Thank you very much for your service and your sacrifice.”
Col. Troy Soukup, commander of the 84th Troop Command, also addressed members of the 257th during Saturday’s deployment ceremony. His prior deployments include Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2006 to 2007, and Kuwait as part of Operation New Freedom and Operation New Dawn from 2011 to 2012.
Soukup lives in Maple Grove with his wife, Melissa, and four children.
“It’s a privilege to be here today,” Soukup said. “Today, the VIPs in this room are standing in formation in front of their families and friends. I salute, honor and thank you for the endeavors that you and your soldiers are about to embark upon.”
American citizen-soldiers have always answered the nation’s call, Soukup said. That legacy of service has made the nation and world a better place.
“It’s a legacy that’s deeply rooted in American history, from Gettysburg during the Civil War to the beaches of Normandy in World War II to the frozen mountains of the Korean War, the rugged terrain of Vietnam, the mountains of Afghanistan, and the streets of Baghdad, Iraq,” Soukup said. “Today, we are not saying goodbye. You are great soldiers, guardsmen and women. We are looking forward to a safe return and a warm homecoming upon your return. Godspeed and stay safe.”
Capt. Jon Schliesing, commander of the 257th Military Police Company, deployed to Morón Air Base, Spain, from 2005 to 2006, and Kuwait, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn, from 2011 to 2012. Schliesing is a Minneapolis policeman and lives in Maple Grove.
“Thank you for coming today,” Schliesing said to those attending Saturday’s deployment ceremony. He also thanked members of Monticello VFW Post 873 and Monticello American Legion Post 260 for their continued unit support, as well as members of the Patriot Guard for displaying nation’s colors.
“The work schedule at Gitmo is going to be demanding,” Schliesing said. “I believe this deployment will make us a stronger family. You make me extremely proud to be your company commander.”
Members of the 257th Military Police Company and their families also attended a farewell dinner held Saturday afternoon at Monticello American Legion Post 260.