By Matthew J. Wilson
FORT LEONARD WOOD Mo. – A group of Missouri National Guardsmen are scheduled to spend their two weeks of annual training surveying land and designing a layout for a potential migrant camp in February at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Approximately 10 Soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Engineer Brigade and five from the 235th Construction Management Team, both of Fort Leonard Wood, as well as three Missouri Air Guardsmen from the 131st Civil Engineering Squadron, of Lambert Airport in St. Louis, will make up the group.
“It’s a be-prepared kind of mission,” said Lt. Col Scott Bach, commander of the 235th, who will be leading the group. “We’ll have a design ready in case there is a mass migration from one of the Central American or Caribbean nations, where a lot of folks would want to seek entry into the United States. It would provide a temporary facility to house the migrant population.”
Bach, who lives in Davenport, Iowa, said following the ground surveying, the group will use that data to create a topographic map and then draw up a final design of what the camp will look like.
“It will show how we need to move dirt or change the site to accommodate the design,” Bach said.
The group’s mission will run concurrent to the U.S. Army South Command exercise Integrated Advance.
“Integrated Advance exercises the command and control piece of how that migrant operation would work,” Bach said. “Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Engineer Brigade and additional Missouri Guardsmen are supporting the exercise in a couple of other ways – so our design is in coordination with that effort. It’s a good way to get us in place to do the work.”
The Missouri Guard provided 10 Soldiers to Suffolk, Va., where they are helping create scenarios for Integrated Advance; 19 Guardsmen to Fort Leonard Wood, where they are acting as the Joint Forces Land Component Command for the Guantanamo Bay migrant camps; and five Soldiers to Guantanamo Bay, where three are acting as liaison officers, one as a driver and one assisting in communications.
Sgt. Maj. Scott Mayer, the senior noncommissioned officer on the mission and the 235th operations sergeant major, said he expects those on the mission to learn a lot and use their military occupational specialty skills to maintain or increase competency.
“My goal for the troops is for them to have valuable training and to be able to start and finish a topographical survey that will provide accurate earth moving estimates for future missions,” he said. “They are looking at using existing unused land that will be housing future migrants, due to natural disasters, political unrest or any other type of mass migration of people that are headed to U.S. soil.”
Mayer, who lives in Lee’s Summit, said the camp will be designed to house 45,000 migrants. He said the same area they’ll be working in was used in 1994 to house more than 9,000 migrants.
The surveying, Mayer said, is the biggest key to the overall design.
“Basically, the main thing that they do is determine the elevations of the land so they can calculate how much dirt needs to be moved to create these migrations camps, which are basically little cities consisting of tent-pad sites,” he said.
This will be Mayer’s second mission to Cuba after participating in Integrated Advance in 2011.
“It’s a great opportunity to work with all the different branches of service on the active duty side,” he said of the mission. “There’s a really good mix of troops there.”
Spc. Derek Lenger, a technical engineer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Engineer Brigade, said he expects to get a lot out of the mission.
“I hope to get some experience being in a different country and surveying,” said Lenger, who lives in Linn. “The weather will be different, which could affect surveying in some aspects. You’re dealing with different pressure and humidity. But just the experience of traveling and putting our skills to use will be good. I’m going to enjoy it.”
This will be the first major endeavor the construction management team will be a part of after it was added to the Missouri Guard in October of 2011.
“This is pretty exciting – it’s a good mission,” Bach said.
Bach said his goal for the mission is to do the job well and further the strong relationship the Missouri Guard has with U.S. Army South.
“We want to put out a good product that can assist Army South should there ever be a need,” he said. “We’d also like to showcase our skills and talents for Army South so that we can maybe procure some additional missions down the road to help them out and continue to have valid real-world missions for our units.”