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From the Chesapeake to the Caribbean

From left are CDR Steve Pope of Mathews, CPO Paul Seitz of Middlesex, PO1 Jarrett Swann of Gloucester, CWO3 Monty Willaford of Middlesex, PO3 Benjamin Packett of Northumberland and PO3 Eric Epperly of Middlesex.

by Army Staff Sgt. Blair Heusdens

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba—The Coast Guard, as one of the nation’s smallest services, is a tight-knit community of people who share a love for country and of the water. Not too far from the mainland, at a naval base on the island of Cuba, another small, tight-knit community exists. Within this community of troopers, six Coasties share an even deeper bond, originating from the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Cmdr. Steve Pope, Chief Warrant Officer Monty Willaford, Chief Petty Officer Paul Seitz, Petty Officer 1st Class Jarrett Swann, Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Epperly and Petty Officer 3rd Class Ben Packett are all members of the Fort Eustis-based Port Security Unit (PSU) 305, currently stationed at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, that hail from the same area around the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula of the Chesapeake Bay.

A quiet, rural area dotted with small towns and friendly people, the Northern Neck-Middle Peninsula region relies heavily on the surrounding water that runs through the Rappahannock, York and Potomac rivers into the bay.

“Though the area is made up of separate counties, the thread that ties them together is the local character and the water,” said Pope, a Mathews County resident and the unit commander.
The men describe growing up in the region using phrases such as: “low crime,” “slow pace” and “a place where everybody knows everybody.” They share common experiences, references and acquaintances from the towns they call home. This is an area where these men have chosen to stay—to settle down and raise their families.

“When you grow up in an area like that, it’s easier to relate to each other,” said Packett, who lives in Northumberland County.

In an area known for its boatbuilding and recreational fishing, many of these men grew up working and playing in the water and naturally leaned toward the Coast Guard when choosing a branch of service.

“I grew up on the water and have always had a love for the water,” said Seitz, a Middlesex County resident.

The unit is stationed at Guantanamo Bay to provide maritime anti-terrorism force protection for the base and the surrounding waters as well as providing security during the military commissions process for Joint Task Force Guantanamo.

According to Pope, PSU 305 has a Mid-Atlantic, Southern culture based on the areas in Virginia and North Carolina where a large portion of the unit is from. 
“Each unit has a personality based on its members,” Pope said.

Because PSU 305 is primarily staffed with reservists, many of the unit members previously drilled together. This common personality and background brings a familiarity to the unit, creating a closer bond among the Coasties as they do their day-to-day jobs.

“We find ourselves always talking about the area,” Swann said. “It’s nice to be able to relate to people who are close to your hometown.”

These small-town bonds have helped the members of PSU 305 accomplish their mission smoothly in the three months they’ve been in Cuba.

“There is a higher bond of dependability when you know who you’re dealing with,” said Willaford. “We share common traits because of our similar upbringing.”

For more information about Joint Task Force Guantanamo, visit

posted 04.15.2009

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