150 members of Minnesota National Guard to deploy to Guantanamo Bay
Approximately 150 members of the Minnesota National Guard will be deployed on Sunday to Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in support of Joint Task Force Guantanamo to provide base security.
The soldiers will be coming from the 34th Military Police Company.
“Our Soldiers are trained and motivated for this important mission,” said Capt. Troy Davidson, the company commander. “We’ve worked hard over the last few years to make sure this unit is one of the most ready units in the U.S. Army.”
The soldiers will travel to Fort Bliss, Texas, for additional training before they arrive at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.
According to the Minnesota National Guard, the 34th Military Police Company was presented the Major General Harry H. Bandholtz Award recognizing the top military police units in the U.S. Army. It also responded to the civil unrest in the Twin Cities metro area at the end of May.
Staff Sergeant Joseph Ekhaml and his wife Haley are soaking up every minute together before the deployment ceremony on Sunday.
“It’s hard to explain what you feel when you know that he has to go and you’re proud and happy but also selfishly sad,” said Haley Ekhaml.
Staff Sgt. Ekhaml has been with the unit for nearly nine years and said he’s looking forward to his first deployment.
“I’m leaving my family here for my Army family,” he said. “It’s a lot easier for me to leave then I’m sure it is for [my wife] to watch me leave.”
They just got married two months ago The couple planned their wedding for May 29th so they could get married before he deployed.
“We were so excited,” said Haley. “It’s 2020, time for our wedding. It’s finally here, it’s time to relax and enjoy this and then COVID hit.”
They changed their plans about 10 times, they said, adapting to new guidelines. They settled on 20 guests, down from about 300.
“I wake up and I’m ready to start decorating,” said Haley, describing the day before the wedding. “I get a call from Joe and he says ‘Hi honey, we’ve been called into state active duty I have to go and help with the rioting. I don’t know when I’ll be back, I promise you I’ll make it to our wedding ceremony at 4pm tomorrow."
Staff Sgt. Ekhaml added, “I was on my way up to the wedding, turned the car around, grabbed my Army stuff, threw on my uniform and drove to where we needed to meet up.”
It was a stressful night but he was given a pass to get married, celebrating with his new wife the next day near Alexandria.
On the day after the wedding, he told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that he headed back to the Twin Cities for nearly two weeks during the unrest.
“Our missions changed very frequently,” he said. “You’d get one location, go there, you might be there for a night, two or three nights.”
Haley added, “It was just texts like ‘I’m safe, we’re good’.”
Immediately after the riots, he had three weeks of annual training, which included preparing for the upcoming deployment.
“At first you don’t know what to think about it when you get told you’re going to get deployed,” said Staff Sgt. Ekhaml. “You’re pretty excited […] then you get closer to it and everything feels last minute.”
He said he’s been getting ready for it over the last year.
“It’s a lot of planning to figure out how you can mitigate any sort of adversity that might come across in the next year,” said Staff Sgt. Ekhaml.
“It’s a stressful for him and I’m over here panicking wondering if I’m going to be able to do this alone for the first time, it feels like this big tidal wave of things we have to do,” said Haley. “It’s just a couple of days away and it’s about to hit us.”
She said, if anything, this summer has prepared them. They plan to Facetime and call and text over the next year, looking forward to a larger wedding reception in July 2021. Haley will also be attending law school at the University of St. Thomas starting in the fall.
After the deployment ceremony on Sunday, the 34th Military Police Compnay will deploy to Fort Bliss, Texas, for additional training.
“He gets to do what he really wants to do and he’s super excited to go,” said Haley.
Staff Sgt. Ekhaml enlisted when he was 17 years old and told us he feels fortunate to have been with the same unit for nearly a decade now.
“I do say it’s the most rewarding, best job I could ask for,” he said. “You get to see a lot of younger people that don’t quite know what path they want to be on start finding that path and grow, you get to watch your friends grow and become strong leaders. I couldn’t ask for a better job, honestly.”
You can watch the farewell on the Minnesota National Guard Facebook page here.