S. Fla. Coast Guard Unit Back From Gitmo

HOMESTEAD (CBS4)- A South Florida Coast Guard unit returned Friday from more than six months of protecting the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where dozens of suspected terrorists are detained.

The 75 men and women were flown Friday into the Homestead Air Reserve Base south of Miami, where they were met by flag-waving family members, squealing children and top Coast Guard brass. They were on duty at Guantánamo Bay when President Barack Obama announced the killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden, who has followers in custody at the naval base.

Petty Officer Robert Mundo of Grapevine, Texas, said he was getting ready for bed when someone burst in with the news.

“It was late. I was getting ready for watch. Somebody came barging in and we were all like, ‘what?'” Mundo said. “It was a good thing to hear. It was just an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction.”

The Miami-based unit is one of 12 Maritime Safety and Security Teams created after the 9/11 terror attacks that can deploy throughout the world to protect U.S. ports, bases and other assets. The Miami group spent 6 1/2 months providing security along the waterfront at Guantánamo and is now being replaced by another unit.

Had there been sessions of the Pentagon’s Military Commissions during their Guantánamo stay, the Coast Guard team would have provided security at the war court called Camp Justice too. Hearings are expected to resume in the summer.

Rear Adm. William Baumgartner, whose command stretches from South Carolina into the Caribbean, said the teams are also used for security for special events such as presidential visits and Super Bowls.

“They can deploy just about anywhere we want them, anywhere we need a specialized force,” Baumgartner said.

The Guantánamo mission is doubly sensitive, the admiral added, because the base is located in Cuba, where the communist government is hostile to the U.S. And, of course, there are still about 172 captives housed there, some suspected terrorist detainees considered among the most dangerous in the world.

“It’s always a difficult situation,” Baumgartner said. “You always have to be careful there. You have to make good choices.”
(© 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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