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Times Herald (Port Huron, MI) December 4, 2003

Port Huron Guard off to Guantanamo

Families, friends say goodbye to departing troops

By Joseph Deinlein, Staff

Spc. Gabriel Nitschke sat his 16-month-old daughter, Allyssia, on the table in front of him.

The 20-year-old Port Huron resident was home for her birthday a few weeks ago. But he won't be home Jan. 8 for the birthday of his twin 3-year-old son and daughter, Christopher and Mariah.

"I'm going to miss a lot of things while I'm gone," Nitschke said. "So I'm trying to get in as much as a I can now."

He and about 50 members of the Michigan Army National Guard's Battery A, 1st Battalion, 119th Field Artillery left the armory on Dove Street in Port Huron at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Their final destination: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Their mission: Guard suspected terrorists imprisoned at the U.S. Navy base on the southeast corner of the Caribbean island.

But for many Wednesday night, their thoughts were not about the tropical weather or the chance to SCUBA dive. Many worried about their families and loved ones that will be left behind during their six-month deployment.

Family affair

The separation will be poignant for Sgt. Gerald Stier, 30, of China Township. He and his wife, Denise, 36, were married a week and a half ago. Denise is expecting their first child.

The couple said they aren't worried because his cousin, Staff Sgt. Joe Stier of Marine City, and brother-in-law, Sgt. First Class Jay Bennett of St. Clair, also are being deployed.

"I think having each other there will be a help," Gerald Stier said. "You know there's somebody else there in the same shoes you are."

Back home Denise Stier and Kim Stier, Joe's wife, and Carrie Bennett, Jay's wife, plan to help each other out.

"It's going to make things a lot easier," Carrie Bennett said.

That doesn't mean she's happy about the deployment.

"At first, I was seriously angry," she said. Her husband has been in the National Guard 20 years and is close to retirement.

"But he's going to do what he has to do. It's his job," she said. "I am very proud of what he's doing."

Newborn

Spc. Kris Matthews Sr., 25, of Auburn Hills, said he's spent the past month getting his life in order. He's made sure his bills will be paid. He's tried to prepare his wife, Tressa, for his time away.

But much of the time he's spent with his son, Kristopher Matthews Jr., who is six weeks old.

"I've just been getting ready to go," he said. "I'm trying to be with my son as much as I can."

Being strong

Nitschke's thoughts were for his wife and kids.

He just moved to Port Huron and joined Battery A in November. Though he has some family here, he and his wife, Tiffany, 21, don't have many friends yet.

Tiffany Nitschke said she's spent the last few weeks spending as much time as she could with her family and not thinking about her husband's deployment.

"I tried not to think about it until today," she said.

While Gabriel's away, she'll work at Bath and Body Works at Birchwood Mall in Fort Gratiot during the day and be with her kids at night.

She said she'll write letters with her kids to Gabriel and talk with him on the phone when she can.

But until he comes back, she said she will have to be both mother and father for her children. "I've got to be strong for them," she said.

ONLINE

CUBA DEPLOYMENT

BATTERY A: www.geocities.com/abattery119fa

MICHIGAN ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: www.michguard.com

GUANTANAMO BAY: www.nsgtmo.navy.mil

CAMP DELTA: www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/guantanamo-bay_delta.htm

PENTAGON: www.defenselink.mil

SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR: www.spanamwar.com

WHAT IT MEANS

CUBA DEPLOYMENT

WHAT: 225 troops from the Michigan Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 119th Field Artillery are being sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on a six-month deployment to guard prisoners being kept there from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. About 50 soldiers from Port Huron's Battery A, based at the city's armory on Dove Street, are among those being sent. They left Wednesday for six weeks of training at Fort Dix, N.J.

WHERE: Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba's southeastern Oriente Province, is a major U.S. Navy port first leased by the government in 1903 as a coaling station. The self-sufficient base has its own water and electric facilities to serve 3,000 military and civilian personnel. The base is about 500 miles south of Miami, has a 17.4-mile fortified fence facing the rest of communist Cuba and is 45 square miles in size. By comparison, Port Huron is 8.1 square miles and St. Clair County is 724 square miles.

GRAPHIC: FAMILY TIME: Spc. Gabriel Nitschke of Port Huron talks Wednesday night with his wife, Tiffany, while their 16-month-old daughter, Allyssia, waves some small American flags. In the top photo, Kristopher Matthews Sr. of Auburn Hills talks about leaving his family, including sleeping 6-week-old Kristopher Jr. Nitschke and Matthews belong to the National Guard's Battery A being deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They left from the Port Huron Armory. BRIEF HONEYMOON: Sgt. Gerald Stier of China Township talks about his deployment to Cuba while his wife, Denise, listens. The couple were married about 10 days ago. Stier's unit first will go to New Jersey for training before leaving for Guantanamo Bay. Times Herald photos by MARK R. RUMMEL


Copyright 2003, Times Herald (Port Huron, MI)