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W.Va. M.P. platoon headed to Gitmo

By Lydia Nuzum, Staff writer
CHRIS DORST | Sunday Gazette-Mail
Following a farewell ceremony in Fayetteville, David Wray of Beckley, a member of the 863rd Military Police Company, gets a hug from friend Pam Lilly as his mother, Donna French, looks on. The platoon leaves Sunday for training in Texas, before deploying to the terrorist detention facility on the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
CHRIS DORST | Sunday Gazette-Mail Thirty soldiers from the Glen Jean-based 863rd Military Police Company stand in formation during Saturday’s farewell ceremony for the soldiers and their families. They were activated for a deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They depart Sunday for two months of training in Texas before continuing on to Cuba.
CHRIS DORST | Sunday Gazette-Mail Maj. Gen. James A. Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, talks with U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Gregory, one of the leaders of the 863rd Military Police Company, at the conclusion of Saturday’s event.

FAYETTEVILLE — Corey Showalter has known about his deployment for almost a year — as long as he has known his fiancee, Josie Athey.

“I’ll miss her,” he said.

“And I’ll miss him,” she added.

The two haven’t set a date for their wedding yet — it’s far in the future, as Showalter and 29 other members of the 863rd Military Police Company, based in Glen Jean, prepare to fly to Fort Bliss, Texas, Sunday for two months of training. From there, they will head to their assignment — a nine-month tour of duty at Guantanamo Bay, the controversial U.S. military detention facility in Cuba.

Most of the soldiers headed for Guantanamo have never been on a tour of duty before. The entire company of more than 100 soldiers was included in the original mission. However, the situation at Guantanamo changed, and 30 soldiers were asked to volunteer for the tour, which will last roughly a year.

“Over the past 12 months, the 863rd Military Police Company has been training in preparation for their mobilization,” said 1st Lt. Matt Schafer, executive officer of the company. 

Dallas Wolfe, commander of the 863rd, told the platoon during a farewell ceremony held Saturday in Fayetteville that their commitment to the company and their fellow soldiers would help them during their deployment.

“The bond between you will only grow stronger during your deployment,” Wolfe said. “Take care of each other, and watch over each other, because you are a family, and if you stick together, you can accomplish whatever mission is set before you.” 

The detention facility on the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay opened in 2002. It was built to detain and interrogate extremely dangerous prisoners from the war against terrorists and to prosecute war criminals. Among its population are al-Qaida’s suspected No. 3 leader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, considered by the 9/11 Commission to be “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks,” as well as the confessed killer of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Also held at Guantanamo is Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh, who allegedly was to take part in the attacks with the 19 al-Qaida hijackers but was denied entry into the United States.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have accused those running the Guantanamo facility of torture and violating the rights of detainees.

In 2009, President Obama publicly ordered that the facility be closed within a year. Despite signing an order in January 2009, opposition from Congress and the courts have kept Guantanamo Bay open. In 2011, Obama signed the Defense Authorization Bill, which placed restrictions on transferring prisoners out of Guantanamo Bay, further delaying the camp’s closure. 

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, commended the soldiers who volunteered for the tour, and told the platoon that their willingness to enlist and volunteer to serve abroad demonstrates their commitment to their families and protecting the nation.

“It says a lot about who you are and what you stand for,” Hoyer said. “It’s a beautiful day outside, and there are people all over this community, this state and this country, millions of people, out going about their business. They can do that, and enjoy the freedoms they have, because of people like these individuals right here that represent less than 1 percent of the population of this nation, who will stand up and stand for something.”

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189. 


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