Belle Chasse — They deplaned Wednesday night on a cold, dark tarmac and marched to a terminal at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans where they found bright smiles and warm hugs in a crush of their waiting loved ones.
The roughly 40 members of Maritime Safety and Security Team New Orleans, who made up the Joint Task Force Guantanamo Maritime Security Detachment, a Coast Guard anti-terrorism unit, returned home in time for Thanksgiving after a six-month deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There they worked to support Operation Enduring Freedom.
Allie Wells held her 9-month-old son, Robert, and kept an eye on 2-year-old Frances and 5-year-old Eleanor as her husband, Lt. Bruce Wells prepared to walk inside.
“It’s great timing,” Allie Wells said. “The holidays will feel like the holidays.”
“Look how much bigger everyone’s gotten!” Bruce Wells said as he hugged his wife and children.
He said there will be a bit of an adjustment to being back home, but he wasn’t complaining.
“It will take some getting used to of taking care of other people than myself,” the Metairie resident said. “A wife and children have different needs than a young freedom fighter.”
MSST New Orleans was created by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The unit is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s protection services of seaports and waterways. There are 11 MSST’s strategically positioned across the country.
The Coast Guardsmen will be on leave for the next two weeks before they return to duty at the Plaquemines Parish base to begin training for their next mission, said Lt. Devon Brennan, MSST New Orleans’ executive officer.
More than 35 Coast Guard reservists from two other deployable specialized forces in Ohio and Florida joined the New Orleans team in the deployment.
During their mission at Guantanamo Bay, team members, who specialized in armed-boat tactics were responsible for securing the port and waterways around the base and conducted more than 4,400 hours of continuous patrols. Unit members completed two months of training before being deployed.
In addition to their sea duties, the unit provided security on land at Joint Task Force Guantanamo, which includes courtroom security for the legal complex where military detainees are held.
The unit also participated in 10 search-and-rescue missions. The most recent one earlier this month saw them rescue two men who were adrift for five days on a powerless boat with no food or water.
The boat had been taking on water and fuel drums on board appeared to be leaking into the bilge, the ship’s lowest compartment. To make matters worse, one of the men began to have difficulty breathing. Team members transported both men and brought them to emergency medical services at the base.
Other missions included pulling two stranded teenage boys from the water and responding to a firefighter in need of medical assistance on the island. Unit members also got him to doctors in time.
Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Meuse, who served as commanding officer of the mission, said he was proud of the work his men did for the last half-year.
“I’m absolutely 100 percent proud of these guys. We went down there six-and-a-half, seven months ago, and they really distinguished themselves as Coast Guardsmen,” he said. “Their performance and professionalism motivated me to be a good C.O.”
As successful as everything was, the mission will be the last thing on the minds of the Coast Guardsmen and their families in the coming days.
“There will be lots of family time,” Allie Wells said. “It’s perfect for Thanksgiving time.”