Friday, June 15, 2012

Local woman serves in Guantanamo Bay

Jade Fitzwater, a 2009 graduate of Timberline High School, is now serving her country as a Security Specialist at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

By Alannah Allbrett

When I think of Guantanamo Bay, like many people, I instantly get images of Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson yelling at each other in the movie A Few Good Men. Most Americans only know bits they read about it in the paper or hear on the news. Few of us will ever have firsthand knowledge.

Jade Fitzwater, a 2009 graduate of Timberline High School, has had exactly that – firsthand experience living at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. She has had many unique experiences stemming from her choice to serve in the U.S. Navy. Jade grew up in the small town of Pierce, where her family lives still. She knew she wanted to go to college, but she did not want to graduate with huge student loan debts.

Originally, Jade thought she would go to WSU to earn her degree. Joining the military wasn’t top on her list, but she contacted the recruiters in Lewiston to find out what they had to say. They visited her at Timberline High and explained all of the benefits and options available to her. Jade said they were very thorough and helpful – explaining how she would be eligible for free medical, free college, a steady paycheck, and get to travel the world. Joining the military was also the last thing everyone else thought she would do, but Jade decided it was exactly right for her.

While awaiting her date to ship out to basic training, Jade worked as a CNA at the Royal Plaza, an assisted living center in Lewiston. That intimidating and challenging day finally arrived, however in February of 2010. She spent two “long months” in basic training – the stuff movies are made of, before starting her A-School – specific job training for her career in the Navy. By the time she finished her schooling in Meridian, Mississippi, she was an honor graduate, eligible for an Accelerated Advancement Program. After six to 12 months at her first command post, she was eligible for promotion to an E-4 rank.

Jade was sent to her first duty station in Fort Meade, Maryland where she gained further experience and was nominated for Junior Sailor of the Quarter. She won runner-up position and advanced to E-4 rank.

After about a year, she knew she was ready for a new challenge and volunteered for individual deployment. Her chain of command informed her that a billet opened up which they thought she consider; the assignment was for GTMO, or GIT-MO as it’s called in the vernacular, Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, Cuba.

Jade calls GTMO “a once in a lifetime opportunity.” She said it’s an honor to be a part of the mission there and all that it stands for. “It’s kind of crazy to think that, in a way, we’re making history.” Jade is part of the Joint Task Force (JTF) whose responsibility it is to conduct safe, humane, legal, and transparent care and custody of detainees, including those ordered released by a court. The JTF collects, analyzes, and disseminates intelligence for the protection of detainees and personnel working in JTF Guantanamo facilities, in support of the War on Terror. The JTF is charged with planning for and, on- order response to the Caribbean mass migration operations.

As Junior Trooper, Jade has been selected by her chain of command to represent the department and what they do. She was chosen out of all E-4 and below personnel to represent the JTF.

Jade has not served any sea duty yet, but when her current assignment is over, she is up for sea duty orders. Given her current assignment and security clearance, it is likely, she said, to go to another intelligence command. Working with the cryptologic intelligence community, she is already familiar with that type of command. Where she is sent, ultimately depends upon the duty needs of the Navy. She hopes to get to go overseas to Japan, Bahrain, or Italy. Right now, however, she enjoys the mission and her place in it.

Since being in the Navy, Jade has only made it home to Pierce three times. She admits to missing “the small town vibe” sometimes, but says, “I know when I go home, everything will be the same. More than likely, the same people are going to be there, and the town isn’t going to change. Yes, I miss my family, and yes it’s hard to be away at times, but I know that not everybody can do what I do. I know that in the end this was my decision.”

When asked if her future holds re-enlistment, Jade said, “My contract of active duty expires February 2015. Depending upon where I’m at in my career, that will determine whether I re-enlist or not.” If she does leave the Navy, after this tour of duty, she has definite plans to continue with college and hopefully work for the government in another capacity.

Contractors at Guatanamo Bay recently painted ‘Honor Bound’ at the Naval Base. The task force’s full motto is ‘Honor Bound to Defend Freedom.’

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