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Guantanamo Bay Troops Recognize Contribution to Terror War

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, June 25, 2005 – Talk about troops fighting the war on terror, and most minds leap immediately to Iraq and Afghanistan. But servicemembers serving here say they feel the important contribution they're making to the effort sometimes gets overlooked.

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Army Staff Sgt. Nfor Julio Barthson calls the mission being conducted at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "a big piece of the puzzle" in the war on terror. Photo by Sgt. Todd Lamonica, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"I know we're helping in the war on terror," said Army Staff Sgt. Nfor Julio Barthson, who's here for a one-year deployment with the California National Guard's 40th Infantry Division. "I believe that we're a big piece of the puzzle."

Army Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay, said the troops here are providing critical functions in support of the terror war.

"They're keeping some very dangerous men off future battlefields, and they're gathering valuable intelligence to provide us a better understanding of how terrorists operate," Hood told the American Forces Press Service. "They're playing a vital role in the war on terror."

The estimated 520 detainees here aren't innocent shepherds who wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time in Afghanistan, officials here are quick to point out. All are known enemy combatants, and among the detainees are terrorist trainers, bomb makers, recruiters, financiers and would-be suicide bombers. Some had personal relationships with Osama bin Laden.

Through regular interrogations of these "high-value" detainees, Hood said, Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay is gaining valuable intelligence about how al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are organized, where they're located, how they train and recruit, and how they finance their operations.

"We're trying to fill in this giant mosaic about what al Qaeda looks like," he told military analysts during a briefing here June 24.

"On a day-to-day basis, we believe we are answering the strategic picture about how these guys operate, and we're also getting some tactical intelligence," agreed Army Col. John Hadjis, chief of staff for Joint Task Force Guantanamo.

"The successes you're reading in the paper in the last six months - we know we've been a part of it," he said.

Those serving here -- U.S. servicemembers, civilians from the Defense Department and other government agencies and contractors alike -- say they feel good recognizing the contribution they're making.

"We're providing information that's keeping Americans safe, and that's why I'm here," said an interrogator at the facility, who asked not to have her name revealed for security reasons.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Marvin Jones, a member of the safety and security force here, said he believes he and his fellow troops at Guantanamo Bay are having a directly impact on troops in Southwest Asia.

"Everyone's job here is to support those military folks who are on the front lines over there getting fired upon. But we're also on the front line. "At the end of the day, we know what we do and what we're contributing," he said.

"" "If the detainees weren't here, they'd be on the battlefield," said Army Staff Sgt. Richard Shafer, noncommissioned officer in charge of Camp 5. It's the camp that houses the least cooperative detainees, who sometimes throw urine and feces on camp guards or otherwise break basic camp rules.

"It takes a lot of patience to work here and do what we're doing," acknowledged one guard, who asked not to have her name used. "But the bottom line is that we know it's something that has to be done and is helping to make a difference."

Shafer said he and many other servicemembers like him volunteered for duty at Guantanamo Bay because they recognize the importance of the mission and the job being carried out there.

"What we're doing here is a positive thing that's having a big impact," he said. "What we're doing here is important."

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