By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News
Posted 4/12/16 (Tue)
It was 10 years ago today that myself and 19 other Soldiers from the North Dakota National Guard reported to the Bismarck Raymond Bohn Armory for mobilization.
That day happened to be Good Friday, April 13, 2006. The day was kind of set aside for promotional things before we got down to the business of get ready to go somewhere, we didn’t know where at the time.
It was also the day I got promoted to master sergeant and was appointed first sergeant of the unit, the 129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, which included Soldiers from Bismark and Rapid City.
A lot of family members were there and during my promotion ceremony, Brig. Gen. Lawrence Woodbury from the Air National Guard in Fargo, helped my dad out of his wheelchair so he and my wife Ilene could pin the rank on the collars of my woodland camouflage uniform.
We spent a couple of additional days in Bismarck doing administrative things and then it was off to Fort McCoy, Wis., where we were issued desert camouflage uniforms. We spent two months there training for our mission - our mission to go someplace, but we still didn’t know where.
Finally, myself, the commander and the executive officer were informed that we would be stationed for 13 months at United States Central Command in Tampa, Fla., and its forward operating base at Camp As Sayliyah, in Qatar.
In those first two weeks at CENTCOM, which is a fortress inside MacDill Air Force Base, we learned about confidential, classified, secret and top secret information and how to communicate it with others without compromising national security.
So, when Hillary Clinton appears on TV and says she wasn’t aware she couldn’t use a private e-mail server to send Department of State emails, she is giving you a line of hooey. She knows full and well how that system works and twisted the facts regarding the Benghazi incident.
Every person who works for the U.S. government, and it doesn’t matter in which capacity, we are briefed on classified information.
Anyway, we settled in and became part of the coalition of nations fighting the Global War on Terror and were this time issued the Army Combat Uniform or ACU.
Working in a multi-national, joint service enviroment was interesting. I shared an office with a Ukrainian captain. Right outside that office were people in my platoon, as well as Soldiers from Qatar, Pakistan, Moldova, Costa Rica and Romania.
This was also the time when we met General Custer. No joke! There was a General “John” Custer, not George, who was stationed at CENTCOM.
When we were all familiar with how CENTCOM worked, we were dispatched all over the world, one, two and sometimes three of us. We went to so many nations, I can’t remember them all.
I went to Qatar alone. We sent a guy into Iran alone. We sent a guy into Afghanistan alone. We sent a female Soldier to Djibouti alone. It was just how our unit worked.
Back in Tampa, we lived in apartments because base housing was full. That was good on weekends as we could get away from the pressure of working in such a high-speed environment.
While I was in Tampa, I was on call every fourth weekend as “officer” in charge.
I’ll never forget in December 2006, when the U.S. got bad intelligence and bombed a trench in Afghanistan where British Marines were located. My phone rang non-stop that weekend with irrate British media wanting answers.
Shortly before our tour was up, Gen. David Patraeus was at CENTCOM to meet with President George Bush and stopped by our offices to chat with us. A year later, he assumed command.
On May 2, 2007, President Bush gave a speech to the Coalition of Nations and I was chosen to write an article for CENTCOM’s website. I had four hours to write the article, have Secret Service OK it, then get it on the CENTCOM website.
In June 2007, we transitioned another unit and prepared to go home.
It was hard to enjoy Tampa during duty time. But on weekends, I drove around the bay area, getting to know places and loved it.
Since that time, my wife and I have been back so many times I can’t remember and we’d like to retire there. Not necessarily in the city of Tampa, but Tampa Bay, which includes St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Sarasota and Clearwater.
Florida is a great place for retirees and had it not been for CENTCOM, I would have never known of its appeal.