The ceremony brought out both troops and translators from the complex operation, as well as Navy base staff and two senior officials from the Pentagon who work on military commissions: Michael Chapman, chief of staff at war court headquarters outside Washington, D.C., and Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, chief war crimes prosecutor for the trials being staged at Guantánamo.
Mondays ceremony comes at a time of transition at the base in southeast Cuba. The base commander, Navy Capt. Kirk Hibbert, leaves this week, too, after an indoor ceremony at the base chapel, up a hill from the McDonalds. Hes being replaced by Navy Capt. J.R. Nettleton, coming from San Diego.
The base commander runs the seaport and the airport and most of the other facilities on the 45-square-mile base, minus the prison camps complex and the base hospital.
He also meets monthly with Cuban military officers along a break in the minefield on the Cuban side and the Marines 17.4-mile fenceline, a chance for each side to update the other on coming activities such as big visitors and training exercises that might be a source of misunderstanding or tension. The Pentagon established the meeting, attended by a State Department envoy, in the 90s and also set up direct communications.
About a year ago, Hibbert said, Cuban authorities notified the base that they were in pursuit of drug runners headed in the general direction of the base, a sign of the quality of relations between uniformed military members with common interest. Also, during heavy rains the Cubans notified the base of the potential for pesticide contamination of the U.S.-controlled portion of the Guantánamo River, where U.S. troops go fishing on their days off.
Hibbert said he introduced his successor at the last meeting and was presented with the Cuban militarys traditional farewell gift: a box of Cohiba cigars that under the U.S. embargo cant leave the base. Hibbert said hed share them with staff this week before his departure for his next assignment at Norfolk, Va.