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Deployed Guam Guard soldiers deny allegations of poor living conditions

Deployed Guam Guard soldiers deny allegations of poor living conditions

TASK FORCE: Spc. Richard Guevarra, left, and Spc. Christopher Crisostomo, of the 1-294th "Chamorri" Battalion, Guam Army National Guard, return from hooking a slingload to a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter while deployed in the Sinai region near Egypt on Sept. 12. Guam National Guard photo by Capt. Mark Scott

An anonymous email recently sent to Guam senators by someone who claims to be among the Guam National Guard soldiers deployed in Egypt's sparsely populated Sinai Peninsula alleges the soldiers are struggling in poor living and work conditions and some have thought of suicide. The Guam Guard leadership has denied the allegations through the voices of two of the deployed.

"Living conditions are terrible. Water has caused soldiers to become sick on a daily basis due to uncleanliness of filtering, barracks are in a sore eye, mold on the walls, aircons, etc.," states the email, in part, from a sender who used the pseudonym Band-Aid soldiers of Sinai.

The email sender states: "Some foods are just upright disgusting and unknown. Some soldiers don’t even eat at the facility due to the issue."

Working conditions are unfair, the email sender alleges, claiming that some work 8 hours a day, others work 12 hours in a shift while others work 24-hour shifts "but we all get paid the same."

The email sender described an alleged stressful environment. "Here’s the important part: Soldiers are now taking refuge in each other due to thoughts of suicide because they feel an even more heavier load of stress and untrustworthiness in leadership due to the fact that they asked for help but a blind eye was turned ... Suicide is a big issue on our island and you as senators should know that from either personal or public experience."

The Guam National Guard leadership, when asked for comment, released a statement attributed to Capt. Mark Scott, Battalion Signal Officer who is among the deployed soldiers in the Sinai region, and Staff Sgt. Vince Iglesias, who is also deployed with the battalion.

The response stated they would never belittle or minimize the struggle of anyone who is suffering.

"If there are soldiers contemplating suicide in our ranks, I hope they have the strength to reach out for help. Our chaplain is here, along with those of us who have completed training for times like these. Also, we are a close-knit family with many relatives, neighbors, and lifelong friends serving together. If this person needs help, all he or she would need to do is reach out. I, like our other leaders, will always be available to help a soldier in need," Scott wrote in response to Band-Aid soldiers.

More than 200 soldiers of the Guam Army National Guard’s 1-294th Infantry Regiment – also known as the “Chamorri Battalion” – deployed to the Sinai region in June.

The battalion's commander and others in the leadership chose to bring its chaplain on this deployment, even when there was no slot for one, Scott added. The battalion also includes soldiers who are trained to help with suicide prevention or providing support to soldiers who may need emotional support, Scott and Iglesias added.

Not lavish, but all-you-can-eat buffet meals

"That said, in my experience here, the tone of the soldiers does not reflect what is written in the emails," Scott stated. "The conditions aren’t lavish, but they are more than adequate. Our dining facilities offer three all-you-can-eat buffet meals per day, with over 20 options to choose from, not including snacks and dessert bars. Our South Camp has its own private beach on the Red Sea, with live corals, free kayaks, snorkeling, and beach volleyball."

There are day passes available to visit the town, and dine at the Hard Rock Café, T.G.I. Friday’s, or visit any number of high-end hotel resorts, Scott added. "Our North Camp and remote sites are more limited, but soldiers are on rotations to be able to experience the amenities," he stated. "There are also tours to the Pyramids, the Holy Land, Luxor, and more, for soldiers to enjoy their time here." 

"Every soldier I’ve spoken to with previous deployments agrees: We are lucky to have a deployment like this," Scott added.

Scott added: "The Army comes with its frustrations, sure. Just like any other job. But there is real meaning to what we are doing, and we are honored to be part of it."

"If any soldier in our ranks is struggling with finding this meaning, or is feeling depressed, alone, or otherwise suffering, please come see me, the chaplain, or anyone you feel comfortable with," Scott stated. "I promise we are here to help because in the absence of our families who we miss so much – for now, we are each other’s families and we have to stick together."

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