190th trains in Cuba; deploys to Haiti

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Angela Brees
  • 190th ARW Public Affairs
"It don't GTMO better than this," read a sign at the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, bowling alley. And for the 190th Civil Engineering Squadron, that slogan summarizes for many their experiences there.

As part of their annual two-week training requirement, 48 members of CE deployed to Guantanamo in early January to assist with several base construction projects. However, following the disaster in Haiti on Jan. 13, the mission evolved from one of training into one of supporting a real-world crisis.

Within hours of the quake, the squadron learned that their two-week mission would not end as planned, and eventually they were tasked for a 120-day deployment to Haiti. After switching out about a dozen personnel and receiving additional equipment, 46 members of the squadron were airlifted to Haiti on Jan. 25.

But the personnel had plenty to keep them busy in the interim.

Once the possibility erupted that Haitian refugees may be brought to Guantanamo, the 190th team launched into action. By early morning on Jan. 14, electricians had scrambled to complete installation of new wiring throughout migrant processing centers, heavy equipment operators were busy clearing additional land for camps, and the remainder of the team, regardless of specialty, was breaking a sweat in the Caribbean heat while assembling 100 tents.

The CE team had planned to work on the migrant processing centers and to clear land for the future staging of tents as part of their original training assignment. However, what was then work to prepare for an upcoming exercise was now critical as the base prepared to receive evacuees.

"I felt like it was a great opportunity to serve in a meaningful way," said Senior Master Sgt. Pat Moore, safety representative. "This is what we train for, and to be able to put it into practice ... the feeling of that is incredible."

For Senior Airman Nathan Taylor, heavy equipment operator, it was a great training experience and he is proud of the work his team completed.

"There's no belly aching on our team; we just get it done," he said. "We worked really fast and efficient here. We kicked butt."

"CE's job is to set up operations from nothing - that's our mission," said Tech. Sgt. Allen Ewell, operations management. "So our mentality was - we're here, we can do it, let's get it done."

That expertise will be utilized in Haiti. The first mission for the squadron in Haiti was to build a Disaster Recovery Beddown System (DRBS), which provides infrastructure for continuing operations for approximately 150 personnel.

But deploying four dozen personnel to a disaster zone from a base more than 2000 miles away presented unique challenges to the deployers, their families, civilian employers and the support staff at Forbes Field.

"As far as anybody can remember, this is the first time we have deployed personnel from an annual training to a contingency environment," said Capt. Penny Jamvold, installation deployment officer.

The challenges included having personnel at one location while their equipment and cargo were at home station.

"Communication was a huge hurdle," said Jamvold. "It made it very difficult to get everybody on the same page."

It was just as challenging to the families and the deployers' civilian employers who had prepared for a two-week separation, not for a potential five-month separation.

These sacrifices didn't go unnoticed by Lt. Col. Mark Green, 190th CE commander who was proud of their commitment to service.

"I'm very proud of the work our team has done since arriving at Guantanamo," Green said. "It's another great example of how Guardsmen are making a difference in service to their state and country ever day. We will be taking that same service to the people of Haiti."