Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Anderson.
Two deployed Coast Guardsmen received a special holiday phone call on Christmas morning from President Barack Obama. Petty Officer 1st Class Gilbert Zepeda and Petty Officer 2nd Class Derek W. Weatherly, both currently deployed with Maritime Safety and Security Team San Diego, answered the president’s calls at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“It was an honor,” Weatherly said. “A person could go 10 lifetimes and never talk to the president. He took time out of his very busy life to call, thank us for our service and wish us a merry Christmas.”
Obama thanked them and the other Coast Guard men and women for their sacrifices far from home during this holiday season.
“The president was very down to earth,” Zepeda said. “We talked about when we’re getting home and the weather. He then asked me about my son, Zack, and said he was my early Christmas present.”
Zepeda’s baby son was born less than a month before his father deployed to Guantanamo Bay.
While overseas, Zepeda, a gunner’s mate, is responsible for maintaining MSST San Diego’s armory including the unit’s weapons, ammunition and pyrotechnics. He also supervises weapons training. Due to operational needs, Zepeda deployed with eight days notice for the extended overseas deployment.
During Weatherly’s call with the president, they discussed his previous deployments, the current deployment, returning home and the NFL playoffs.
“We talked a lot of football,” Weatherly said. “The Raiders’ overtime win and other NFL games from Saturday.”
Weatherly, a San Francisco Bay Area native, is an avid Oakland Raiders fan.
Both conversations boiled down to thank them for their service.
“He thanked us for our service and asked us to tell our shipmates that he appreciates everything we do for our country.” Weatherly said.
While assigned to Joint Task Force Guantanamo, Zepeda, Weatherly and all of MSST San Diego form the Maritime Security Detachment Guantanamo and are responsible for securing the port and waterways around the base. They also provide landside security mission while commissions for detainees are underway
Cmdr. Eric Cooper, MSST San Diego’s commanding officer, was in the room when Zepeda and Weatherly took the phone call.
“The Coast Guard is recognized worldwide for having some of the highest quality professionals in the nation and I am fortunate to have the cream of the crop here at MSST San Diego,” Cooper said. “Petty Officers Zepeda and Weatherly are true professionals and I couldn’t be prouder of the dedication and consistently high performance that they display every single day. I am particularly impressed with the outstanding job that they have done while deployed supporting Joint Task Force Guantanamo.”
As a part of the Department of Homeland Security‘s layered strategy directed at protecting seaports and waterways, MSSTs safeguard the public and protect vessels, harbors, ports, facilities and cargo in waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States from destruction, loss or injury from crime or sabotage due to terrorist activity and to respond to such activity should it occur.
MSSTs are a component of the Deployable Operations Group. The DOG provides properly equipped, trained and organized Deployable Specialized Forces to Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense and interagency operational and tactical commanders.