CAMP SMITH TRAINING SITE, N.Y. (March 9, 2015) -- Fifty-six National Guard Soldiers, from the 42nd Infantry Division, prepared to deploy to the Caribbean by training in sub-zero temperatures and two-foot high snow drifts at the New York National Guard's training camp here.
The team of enlisted Soldiers, non-commissioned officers and officers will staff the personnel, operations, logistics, and signals sections of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, which is charged with overseeing detainee operations at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or Gitmo.
Other members will support the Office of Military Commissions, the agency charged with trying some detainees at the base under the terms of the Military Commissions Act of 2009, and the Judge Advocate General's section.
Despite the fact that they will be working on administrative tasks, miles from Afghanistan or Iraq, the Army standard requires all deploying Soldiers to go through the same basic combat refresher training, said Lt. Col. Todd Bookless, a Greenwich, Connecticut resident and the officer-in-charge of the detachment.
So the Guantanamo Bay-bound Soldiers waded through snow while conducting land navigation classes, and tossing practice grenades at targets covered by snowdrifts. They are also practicing convoy operations, learning how to cope with a vehicle rollover, and brushing up on hand-to-hand combat skills.
The 42nd Infantry Division, based in Troy, New York, put together a pre-mobilization training team to help the Guantanamo-bound Soldiers get through the training they need to deploy at the end of March.
It seems kind of silly to be training on combat skills in the snow and then deploy to a Caribbean island, Bookless said. But the team needs to get the training done, and this is the time, and Camp Smith is the place to make it happen, he said.
The training builds a team and "is also building confidence in individuals" as they learn new skills, Bookless said.
"Team building is crucial," said Staff Sgt. Robert Jayne, a combat engineer from Binghamton, New York. "If the Gitmo team can accomplish extreme weather training for a tropic deployment then we are better prepared to take on any mission."
The Guantanamo deployment is a "once in a lifetime opportunity" for the 42nd Infantry Division Soldiers to work alongside Air Force, Navy and Marine personnel, Bookless said.
Many of the detachment members have deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or Kuwait and this latest deployment is going to be very different, he said.
The training was good despite the subzero conditions, said Capt. Bryan Hoffman, from Ronkonkoma, New York. "Everyone has done an excellent job."
For 1st Lt. Yvette Valle, a Buffalo resident who has already deployed twice, the training was a review of important skills.
She has done cold weather training before, Valle said, but never in weather this cold. "I've used most of the gear the New York National Guard issued me," she said.
While the team has gone through standard Army deployment training dealing with improvised explosive devices and refreshing themselves on land navigation and basic tactics they will be leaving their "battle rattle" at home in the armory, Bookless said.
There will also be more opportunities for Soldiers to take leave and work regular hours, he said.
Still, all the members of the 42nd Infantry Division detachment are taking the assignment seriously and know this mission is important, Bookless said.
"Obviously this is a mission of national, strategic significance, and we want to do well," he said.
The New York Guard Soldiers are also looking forward to working with members of other services, since normally their missions and training are very Army-centric, Bookless added.
The 42nd Infantry Division is a headquarters unit, whose personnel are trained to exercise mission command over three to five brigade elements of 3,000 to 5,000 Soldiers.
This is the fourth time New York Army National Guard Soldiers have deployed to serve as part of Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
• 50 Soldiers of the 102nd Military Police Battalion from Auburn, New York, are serving at Guantanamo and are expected to return home this summer. They mobilized in July 2014.
• The 138th Public Affairs Detachment deployed to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base from August 2012 to July 2013. These eight Soldiers produced the Joint Task Force Guantanamo publication "The Wire" and assisted the task force public affairs officer.
• In June 2011, the 107th Military Police Company from Utica mobilized 170 Soldiers who served at Guantanamo Bay for 10 months. The Soldiers provided the outer ring of security around the prisoner detention facility.
• New York Army National Guard Brig. Gen. James Lettko, since retired, served as deputy commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo in 2011-2012.
In 2010, 40 Airmen, from the New York Air National Guard's 106th Civil Engineering Squadron, deployed for a traditional two-week training cycle at Guantanamo Bay. They worked to support earthquake relief efforts in Haiti for Operation Unified Response by providing repairs and maintenance for roads, among other things.
The 42nd Infantry Division has training oversight of the New York National Guard's 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade, and the 369th Sustainment Brigade. The division also has training responsibility for National Guard brigades in New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The division served as a key National Guard headquarters during the state's response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Irene in 2011. The division headquarters has also sent elements to Japan and Australia to support exercises there.
In 2004 and 2005, the division headquarters deployed to Tikrit, Iraq, where Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto was responsible for more than 20,000 U.S. Army Soldiers in four brigades in three Iraqi provinces.
The division was first organized during World War I when National Guard units from 26 states were brought together to deploy to France, as quickly as possible. Then Col. Douglas MacArthur, who was the division's chief of staff and later a commander, said the unit stretched across America "like a rainbow." This gave the division its nickname as the Rainbow Division.
In World War II, 42nd Infantry Division Soldiers freed inmates at the Dachau Concentration camp.
(Sgt. 1st Class Steven Petibone contributed to this story.)