Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Masaschi
Deep in the Caribbean, fleets of Coast Guard, Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine personnel need to move through and around Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Ensuring their safety is a huge responsibility, which requires the 24-hour presence of highly-trained personnel to ensure the world’s elite military force is safe from harm. Those highly-trained personnel come from the nation’s smallest military branch – the U.S. Coast Guard.
Coast Guard port security units serve as anti-terrorism force protection expeditionary units with boat crews and shore-side security teams capable of supporting port and waterway security within the United States or anywhere in the world the military operates.
More than 100 Coast Guardsmen from U.S. Coast Guard Port Security Unit 305, based in Fort Eustis, Virginia, are executing multiple missions alongside Department of Defense partners who staff the Maritime Security Detachment (MARSECDET) at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a nearly year-long deployment.
While deployed to Guantanamo Bay, PSU members provide around-the-clock waterborne security and point defense force protection to DoD assets, and they operate alongside Navy, Marine, Air Force and Army service members conducting joint operations.
Transiting through the mouthwash-blue Caribbean Sea, PSU crew members aboard 32-foot Transportable Port Security Boats provide armed escorts to inbound Coast Guard cutters, Navy ships and commercial ships transiting to Guantanamo Bay. PSU crew members also escort authorized maritime traffic passing through Guantanamo Bay en route to Cuba, and they enforce offshore security zones.
During an emergency response, moving personnel through remote regions in the area can be difficult. Should a medical evacuation or a need to get personnel to these remote locations arise, the fastest route is across the bay via boat. PSU crew members routinely train with Marines in launching and recovering personnel from remote locations throughout the bay.
On land, PSU service members provide anti-terrorism defense protection to assets and personnel at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.
“People come to Port Security Units for moments like this – for the deployment,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Michael McCarthy, MARSECDET commanding officer with PSU 305. “This is the actual game. You spend four or five years training, but it’s not until you actually go on a deployment that you get into the game. This is the highlight and culmination for the training and hard work our people put in getting their boat [qualifications] or their shore-side security [qualifications].”
PSUs consist of enlisted members from almost every rating who train to execute PSU operations and missions worldwide. Boatswain’s mates, machinery technicians and maritime enforcement specialists make up the majority of the personnel.
Beyond operations, a wide support umbrella of administration staff, intelligence, engineering departments, communications, logistics and armory personnel work behind the scenes keeping the boats in the water, equipment operating, the security forces properly equipped and the service members mission ready.
A cache of replacement parts and consumables are kept on hand for the engineering department, minimizing downtime for vehicles, equipment and boats. When repair items are needed beyond what the unit stocks, the PSU relies on a five-person crew at Air Station Miami Aviation Detachment (AVDET) Guantanamo Bay to deliver the needed parts.
“For the PSUs, the AVDET provides depot-level inventory from the Surface Forces Logistics Center in Baltimore for the Transportable Port Security Boats,” said Chief Petty Officer David Knapp, AVDET Guantanamo Bay supervisor. “The PSU has their own inventory for small things, but we stage depot-level repair items such as a stern drive or an engine. We can provide them a replacement engine then take the broken engine and send it back to get it fixed and returned to inventory.”
Beyond managing the forward-staged inventory, Knapp said AVDET crew members also support PSU personnel by facilitating logistics – getting people on and off the island for emergency leave.
“Our job is to make sure they can do their job and they don’t fail, which is sometimes hard since the PSU is operating boats 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Knapp.
PSU 305’s current deployment marks the first time a complete PSU has deployed to Guantanamo Bay to staff boat forces and shore side security missions for the entire deployment.
Being the first full PSU to deploy to Guantanamo Bay for the complete deployment, the PSU needed additional members to be fully staffed to carry out the missions. A number of members from as far as Alaska volunteered to deploy with PSU 305, McCarthy said. Though the deployment is almost a year long, the PSU is staffed with people who want to be deployed and are committed to the mission.
“I’ve got two individuals from Station Valdez, [Alaska], people from Station Seattle, folks from the Great Lakes area, Galveston, [Texas], and others from up and down the East Coast who raised their hand and volunteered,” said McCarthy. “It’s unique. Coast Guard reservists get called up every once in a while to do contingency operations. These are the best opportunities for anyone in the reserves. It’s an opportunity to get exposed to a significant mission and for members to get specialized training, qualifications, educational benefits, health benefits and to take care of themselves and grow professionally and personally.”
Operating on a naval base with representation from all five branches of the armed forces the PSU maybe the first and possibly the only time other service members will ever interact with the Coast Guard.
“We realize this is our chance to make a great impression of our service,” added McCarthy. “This is our time to showcase what we’re made of, and we’re proud to do it.”