Kentucky Soldiers thrive in unique deployment environment

Story by Sgt. Cody Stagner, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

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Pfc. Cody Cooper, a member of the 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment escorts news media representatives during a tour of Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Aug. 8, 2013. Camp X-Ray was the first detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. Cody Stagner)

JOINT TASK FORCE GUANTANAMO, Cuba — Established in 1903, the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is now home to the world’s most recognized detention facility on the planet—Joint Task Force Guantanamo.

Regardless of difficulty and the fate of their temporary duty station, Kentucky Guardsmen from the 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, teamed up with the 120th Public Affairs Detachment from Indianapolis, flourish on Cuban soil.

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Staff Sgt. Rebecca Wood, a member of the 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, conducts media training for Service members at Joint Task Force Guantanamo in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Aug. 8, 2013. Media relations training helps Service members learn how to interact with news media representatives that visit Guantanamo (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. Cody Stagner/133rd MPAD)

“We could not have asked for a better deployment situation,” said Capt. Andi Hahn, the commander of the 133rd and officer-in-charge of media relations for JTF GTMO. “All of our Soldiers have unique backgrounds and skillsets that are useful and necessary for our successes here.”

One ongoing success is the control and management of command information and its distribution throughout JTF GTMO.

“The Wire magazine has 1,250 copies distributed weekly all around the base,” said Cpt. Brian Pennington, the officer-in-charge of command information. “In addition, we also take all command photos and control the distribution of all information through various channels of communication.”

Leading troops is nothing new to the Lexington, Ky., native. He values his experience as a non-commissioned officer in Iraq from 2004-2005, and as a commissioned officer in Afghanistan from 2010-2011.

“Leading troops in combat is different from leading troops in Guantanamo, but also very similar,” he said. “I have been blessed to serve with outstanding Soldiers that perform difficult duties at a professional level without delay.”

From day one, Pennington lead a talented team of public affairs specialists to function as journalists, photographers, videographers, editors, graphic designers and webmasters to overhaul The Wire and makeover the 20-page periodical with a more attractive reader appeal.

To see recent issues of The Wire, click here.

They added custom graphics, reorganized its consistency and permanently dedicated portions of the periodical to favorite topics of readers, such as movie reviews, comics, Service Member spotlights and fitness.

“Working in the public affairs office with others who bring years of experience has inspired me to want to work closely to the public affairs field,” said Spc. Lerone Simmons, a member of the 133rd from Brooklyn, N.Y. “I have really enjoyed getting to know the people here.”

Simmons, a journalism student at Kentucky State University, submits one to two stories each week to the base publication and hopes his efforts lead him to a job that travels abroad.

“This is an opportunity many journalists have never had,” he said. “Not only do I have the privilege to be published, but I am also proud to get to serve my country.”

Other Soldiers of the 133rd also place service before self and are riding in the front seat with Guantanamo as it makes headlines in the news.

“Media representatives visit most every week to get interviews for the stories our families are reading back home,” said Pfc. Cody Cooper, a media escort in the 133rd from Scottsville, Ky. “It is my job to escort them around the base and through the detention camps and help make sure their needs are all met. Regardless of the media’s political view, our mission stays the same.”

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Staff Sgt. Aaron Hiler, a public affairs specialist in the 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment distributes The Wire Magazine to the Navy Exchange at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Aug. 16, 2013. Hiler is deployed in support of operations for Joint Task Force Guantanamo as a graphic designer and webmaster for The Wire Magazine, a base wide publication (Staff Sgt. Lorne W. Neff/120th PAD)

This deployment has given the 19-year-old a chance to hone his skills by cross training and observing world-known broadcast journalists in their element.

“I really enjoy what I do here,” he said. “When Irish TV and Radio visited, the simple way they interacted with each other and me as their escort made me feel like I was a part of their team. This is where I am supposed to be.”

During military commission proceedings at Guantanamo, the two Guard units facilitate mass numbers of visiting journalists.

“The most challenging obstacle for me is logistics,” said Staff Sgt. Rebecca Wood, the non-commissioned officer in charge of media relations. “For commissions, I might have to figure out how to move thirty reporters from point A to point B using three different modes of transportation and with limited staff. I have to think about every reporter’s well-being as well as the six Soldiers who help me carry out this mission. There are a lot of moving parts.”

To add to the moving parts in their daily mission, Wood and Hahn fore fronted a new instructional course that serves a greater good for the entire base.

“We teach service members how to do interviews and try to relieve some of the stigma about military talking to reporters,” said Wood. “I have seen Soldiers come into our classroom saying they don’t trust reporters, and then we hand-pick them later to do an interview and they nail it. It’s a win-win situation for public affairs, the reporter, the Soldier and his or her leadership.”

Wood, originally from Parkersburg, W. Va., accepts the challenge of balancing a multitude of responsibilities with open arms.

“I can’t wait to apply what I am learning to the civilian sector and in my career with the Kentucky Guard,” she said. “I am truly blessed to have an opportunity like I have here at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Guard is what made it possible.”

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