February 28, 2003, 10:18 EDT

2-116th Infantry helps secure Guantanamo Bay

by Maj. Ed Larkin
29th Infantry Division Public Affairs Officer


Spc. Michael Gwaltney scans his sector with binoculars while Spc. Charles Bird stands watch. Both soldiers are in 2/116th, Company B, 1st Platoon. (Photo courtesy of the 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office.)

The soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regt. are a bit leaner and tanner these days from the many hours of long patrols in the mountains of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Deployed in December 2002 to provide security for detainees and U.S. forces, they have quickly adapted to the challenging environment of Guantanamo Bay.

“I am here because it is the right thing to do. We work long hours and we also do some tough training. I am happy to have the opportunity to do my part,” said Spc. Jonathan Rothwell of Company C.

It is January and the temperature is well into the high 80s as the members of 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry, Company C, 1st Platoon prepare for a combination mounted and foot patrol. They go through a series of equipment checks and review the tactical route prior to departure. This is just the start of the soldiers’ double-digit day. During the hours of duty, they will cover miles of terrain, search for anything unusual in their area of operations and seek out uninvited visitors.

Located 90 miles south of Key West, Florida, you would think being deployed to a Caribbean Island would be great duty. One hard look at Guantanamo Bay and you will want to get back on the plane and go home. The Guantanamo Bay area of Cuba is filled with steep, rugged mountains covered with cactus and shale rock that make climbing up the mountainsides a high adventure and coming down a bigger challenge, with more than one soldier losing their footing and doing the rucksack roll.

Patrolling is just one of the many daily missions the 2-116th performs. Other duties include working traffic control points, manning observation points and providing security in critical areas. “The soldiers are doing a great job. They are ‘beating the bush’ and wiping off their sweat,” said 2-116th Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Puskar. “It is a tough mission and they are rolling with the punches. They come out here every day to do the job in a professional manner. I am extremely proud of them.”

Spc. Douglas Quint, Pfc. Will Ingram (foreground) and Spc. Jonathan Rothwell of 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, Company C, 1st Platoon prepare for a combination mounted and foot patrol. (Photo courtesy of the 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office)
The Guantanamo Bay mission is one of the many that is helping U.S. put terrorism in check. Unlike in other periods of American conflict, the enemy doesn’t have a standing army in the field. They work undercover in small cells and are difficult to find.

Instead of direct combat, they prey upon civilians and choose targets based on their symbolic value in an attempt to spread fear. But, the intense dedication of the 2-116th Regt. is going a long way in adding a measure safety to all back at home. This is another example of how the National Guard, America’s hometown Army, contributes to our national defense.

Life at Guantanamo Bay is a lot like living in a box. The day-to-day routine consists of lots of hard work and constantly trying to find a better way to do the mission. The accommodations are sparse, but comfortable. The food is good and plentiful. Soldiers relax by reading, exercising and taking advantage of some of the morale and welfare programs the base provides. “It is what we were called to do. We support our nation. The work isn’t glamorous. I am just proud to do the job, especially since 9/11,” said Sgt. Robert Martin of Company B.

For some of the soldiers, this is a second or third deployment in less than two years. They all miss home and the many comforts they have given up to do this important mission. “We are carrying on the great traditions and legacy of the 116th Infantry, and it is not really enough to say how extremely proud of these soldiers I am,” said Lt. Col. Tom Wilkinson, Commander of the 2-116th. “They are doing everything asked of them and more.”

All the soldiers of the 2-116th look forward to getting back to a normal life. The general feeling is they are here until the mission is done or when the 2-116th are no longer needed. It is best summed up by Spc. John Fuqua, “Infantry is not a way of life, it is setting the highest standards and doing the job right.”

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