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Erik Burgess, Published October 20 2013

29 ND National Guardsmen honored after return from Guantanamo Bay

FARGO - Twenty-nine North Dakota National Guardsmen were honored here on Sunday after returning from a nine-month deployment at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

But it wasn’t just the soldiers, many of whom have served in multiple deployments, who were applauded in the homecoming tribute and freedom salute event held at the Fargo Air Museum.

The families and support groups of soldiers were also recognized for their sacrifices, as guest speaker U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said they have to “pick up the slack at home” when their family member is deployed.

“You serve, too, right?” Hoeven asked the families present. “When your soldier’s gone, you’re right here on the front lines doing all the things that you have to do.”

The 29 soldiers of the 191st Military Police Company honored Sunday were part of the larger Joint Task Force Guantanamo. They were deployed from Fargo nearly one year ago.

Part of their mission was to transfer control of the detention camp from the Navy to the Army, a difficult task in and of itself, said Staff Sgt. Travis Sand, of Devils Lake. The company also helped in intelligence gathering, safety and security and put in 650 hours of community service while in Cuba, said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general.

Guest speaker Gov. Jack Dalrymple thanked the soldiers and said it was obvious that they weren’t “sitting around” for all those months. He called their sacrifices “well-known and obvious.”

“Your service was exemplary as we knew it would be, and we are so proud of all of our Guard people when they come back,” Dalrymple said. “The report is always the same. It’s a job well done.”

Several speakers on Sunday also took time to highlight why they believe it is critical to keep the sometimes-controversial Guantanamo Bay detention center in operation.

Chief Master Sgt. James Gibson of the North Dakota Air National Guard said the soldiers in Guantanamo are charged with detaining people “that we don’t want running around.”

“Since those people were locked up and not able to go out and plan things against us, you’re saving lives in the long run, and that’s a good thing,” Gibson said.

Hoeven, who co-sponsored legislation to keep Guantanamo open, said the detention facility is necessary in the “global war on terror” to interrogate those high-profile enemy combatants.

“It is a war on terrorism, and that is why we need a facility like Guantanamo Bay,” Hoeven said. “And that’s why you have been and continue to be an incredibly important part of the defense of not just this country but all freedom-loving people in the world. You are the tip of the spear, and you do a fabulous job.”

Sand was the only member of the 191st Military Police Company with four total deployments. He received special honors on Sunday, as did the 14 other company members with two or three deployments.

After the event, Sand said he was happy to be home to his girlfriend, Breanne Duhamel, and his 22-month-old son, Beckham, but he said his company’s work in Guantanamo needs to be continued on even though they’ve left.

“I’m glad to be back,” Sand said. “It was a difficult but definitely a necessary deployment.”

The last time North Dakota Guardsmen served in Cuba was during the Spanish-American War in 1898, according to a National Guard press release.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518