GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, CUBA — Army Spc. Keith B. Sekora of Glen Burnie wants Americans to know he's one of many U.S. servicemen called overseas to support another country's citizens.
Sekora, 21, the son of Lynn L. Dunkerly of Glen Burnie and son-in-law of Jack and Karen Haley of Pasadena, is one of more than 1,500 American troops sent here since Nov. 21 for Operation Guantanamo.
They are providing food, clothing, shelter, security and medical aid for more than 7,000 Haitian migrants at the base, which is 400 air miles southeast of Miami.
A joint task force of Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen and coast guardsmen eventually is expecting to house 10,000 Haitians in humanitarian centers.
This is the third consecutive year American troops have provided humanitarian support outside the U.S. In December 1989, troops were in Panama for Operation Just Cause. Last December, U.S. forces helped Kuwaitis get their countryback. This year, the Haitian migrants are the beneficiaries of American goodwill.
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, resting on the southeast corner of Cuba, is the only U.S. military installation located in a communist country. According to a task force spokesman, U.S. forces will remain here until the Haitians' fate is decided in court.
"WhenI first saw the Haitians, I felt sorry for them. They lost everything they had and went through a lot of humiliation," said Sekora, a 1988 graduate of Old Mill High School.
The migrants began fleeing their imperiled island home in crudely constructed boats after a Sept. 30 military coup wrested control of the government from President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The weak Haitian economy was dealt a crippling blow by a trade embargo imposed on the "new regime" by the Organizationof American States following Aristide's ouster.
Haitians risking their lives to cover the almost 200-mile distance between Haiti and Guantanamo are being recued from their plight at sea by Navy and CoastGuard personnel.
"My job as a military policeman is to provide security for the safety and well-being of the Haitian migrants," said Sekora, who was sent here Nov. 27 from the 209th Military Police Company, Fort Meade.
After the Haitians are brought to this 45-square-mile naval base, they're transported by bus to a humanitarian center built by the troops. In addition to food and shelter, they receive clothing donated by Cuban-American residents of Miami and people from other cities.
"I feel proud that the Army trusts me to know that I can compete this hard task and that it's necessary to help everyone involved," said Sekora. "I'd like to see the Haitians get their countryback and set up a working government to benefit them."