Lo­cal Army Re­serves MP re­turns home from Gitmo duty

Times-Record - - FRONT PAGE - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­pub.com

— When Lu­cas Nagel was 3 years old, he wanted to be “an army man.” That’s all he ever wanted to be.

On Hal­loween, “I was the weird kid who didn’t want to be a po­lice­man or fire­man,” he said. “One year, I wanted

to be (cam­ou­flaged as) a bush. I scared the crap out of peo­ple.”

His par­ents, Mil­ton and Tina of Federalsburg, laugh at the mem­ory, and it’s one of their fa­vorites. Now that Lu­cas is back home safely from his tour of duty as a mil­i­tary po­lice of­fi­cer at Guan­tanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, it’s good to re­lax and laugh. “I’m just glad to get him home,” Tina Nagel said.

The 2013 Colonel Richard­son High School grad­u­ate re­turned home on Thurs­day, Jan. 19, af­ter tak­ing part in “de­ten­tion op­er­a­tions” with the 372nd Mil­i­tary Po­lice Com­pany, an Army Re­serve unit of 160 sol­diers based in Cre­sap­town, Md., near Cum­ber­land.

Cpl. Nagel, 21, spent 10 months in a duty he talks about in guarded lan­guage. But he said, over­all, “It was pretty neat. I dreamt about be­ing a sol­dier as a lit­tle kid.”

Nagel learned his job fast. Af­ter a month of train­ing at Fort Bliss, Texas, in Fe­bru­ary 2016, he boarded a char­ter flight to Cuba on March 3. Even af­ter ar­riv­ing at “Gitmo,” he found out “the peo­ple you’re re­liev­ing just want to (go home).”

In a way, the mil­i­tar y per­son­nel who serve on the base are con­fined to the base dur­ing their tours of duty. “The gate has been closed for 40-some years,” Nagel said. “There’s no leav­ing Gitmo. You can’t leave. You can’t go to Ha­vana. You can’t even get Cuban cigars.”

“There was so much to take in,” Nagel said. “It’s like noth­ing else I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced.” How­ever, the duty is “very men­tally tax­ing. The PTSD rates are two times higher than com­bat (rate).”

Still, Nagel, who has been in the Re­serves for four years and four months, said there was much to en­joy when he was off-duty, and that was some­thing he re­mem­bered with fond­ness. “Even though you’re trapped, it can be a par­adise,” he said.

As an is­land in the Caribbean, Cuba of­fered “90-de­gree weather ev­ery day,” Nagel said. The clear turquoise wa­ter, which he could see from the quar­ters he shared with three other sol­diers who be­came a tightknit group of friends, was not off-lim­its. Mil­i­tary per­son­nel and their guests could rent boats and spend their days off fish­ing, snor­kel­ing and scubadiv­ing.

The mil­i­tary po­lice jobs were like shift work, Nagel said, with typ­i­cally four 12-hour days fol­lowed by three days off. But that “de­pended on who was on leave, or who got sent home early if their wives were hav­ing ba­bies,” he said.

A typ­i­cal day in­cluded “wak­ing up as late as pos­si­ble, go­ing to work, work­ing out af­ter work, fix­ing a meal (the four troops had a re­frig­er­a­tor, mi­crowave and an out­door grill for fre­quent cook­outs) and play­ing corn­hole, play- ing soft­ball or soc­cer, or watch­ing movies that were loaded into portable hard drives. Nagel rigged a bed sheet to the wall as a screen, and he and his room­mates bought a pro­jec­tor at the Navy Ex­change. No TV shows or news were avail­able at the base. “It was re­ally nice to be dis­con­nected dur­ing the elec­tion,” Nagel said.

“When you were off, it was like a va­ca­tion,” Nagel said, “They let you un­wind.” On the other side of the bay, which a ferry tra­versed, were the Navy Ex­change, a ho­tel, rental cars and boats and scuba gear.

Nagel and his three bud­dies pooled their money to buy one of the fre­quently flipped — and of­ten dec­o­rated — ve­hi­cles on the base. He saw cars and trucks painted and dec­o­rated as Batman, Cookie Mon­ster and Ghost­busters. Nagel and his room­mates paid $1,500 for a 1995 Ford F-150 that took them back and forth across the bay and down to the beaches that were mostly rocks with lit­tle sand. They paid $40 for four months of in­sur­ance and sold the truck to a sailor for $1,200.

“I knew it was re­li­able and would sell quickly,” Nagel said.

He said most of the ve­hi­cles in the Gitmo Auto Trader were “pieces of crap,” but it was hard to wear out a ve­hi­cle when the speed limit on the base is only 35 mph.

Driv­ing around, Nagel said he saw white-tailed deer, re­port­edly brought over from the States in the past by Navy brass. “It made me feel like I was home again,” he said. “I loved be­ing the only per- son from the East­ern Shore.”

The high­light for Nagel was a five-day visit from his fam­ily in July. “How many times are you go­ing to get to go to Guan­tanamo Bay?” Mil­ton Nagel said.

Af­ter fill­ing out myr­iad forms, his par­ents and brother J.T. and J.T.’s girl­friend ar­rived on the base. They saw no other part of the is­land but also were con­fined to the base.

Nagel took part of his 14-day leave to spend time en­joy­ing home cook­ing his dad’s steaks on the grill; his mom’s home cook­ing, which was shared with about 20 of his bud­dies; and some re­lax­ation. Tina en­joyed col­lect­ing sou­venirs from the aptly named Glass Beach, which was lit­tered with sea glass. Nagel en­joyed her scream­ing ev­ery time she saw one of the “gi­nor­mous” igua­nas that call the base home.

“Just don’t feed them,” Nagel said. “They come crawl­ing out of drain­pipes, and you have to fight off the ones be­ing fed. They’re the size of croc­o­diles.”

Down­time and self-care was re­spected and en­cour­aged at Gitmo, Nagel said. He wouldn’t dis­close how many de­tainees (“they can only be pris­on­ers if they’re con­victed”) were there dur­ing his tour, but he said guards walk a tight line 24/7. They wear no dog­tags or nametags — noth­ing that would re­veal per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

Pet dogs of Navy per­son­nel were en­listed as vol­un­teer ther­apy dogs. They car­ried signs that said, “Pet Me,” which helped MPs like Nagel who missed his own dog, “Bo.” He said his su­pe­ri­ors “re­ally cared” about the troops, with coun­selors, ther­a­pists and chap­lains. “They wanted you to get stuff off your chest” with­out fear of be­ing re­ported for need­ing help, he said.

Nagel re­ceived haz­ardous duty and hos­tile fire pay even though his was a non­com­bat de­ploy­ment.

“You can still get hurt. It’s still dan­ger­ous,” Nagel said. “They can throw stuff at you.” It’s more men­tally tax­ing than com­bat he said be­cause in an ac­tive war zone, sol­diers de­velop “men­tal mus­cle” to fight the en­emy. At Gitmo, he said, “You’re face to face with the en­emy, (but you can’t fight him).”

Nagel earned three medals, though not the arm patch awarded to those who ser ved in com­bat zones. Added to his uni­form were the Army Achieve­ment Medal, Global War on Ter­ror­ism Ex­pe­di­tionary Medal and the Global War on Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice Medal.

When Nagel re­turned to Fort Bliss on Jan. 6, he at­tended de­mo­bi­liza­tion ses­sions, which in­cluded med­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal test­ing and tons of pa­per­work. He took classes on PTSD, sui­cide preven­tion, pro­to­cols re­gard­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment as­sault and ha­rass­ment, re­sume build­ing and fi­nan­cial coun­sel­ing.

“The Army cares, be­lieve it or not,” Nagel said.

Although Nagel’s love for all things mil­i­tar y be­gan as a tod­dler, his pa­tri­otic feel­ings kin­dled on Sept. 11, 2001, when he was in the first grade at Pre­ston El­e­men­tary School. He re­mem­bers the day ter­ror­ists used com­mer­cial air­planes as weapons and ex­actly where he was sit­ting in the cafe­te­ria when his mom came to pick him up. It made an in­deli­ble im­pres­sion on him.

Four years later, his par­ents took the fam­ily to ground zero in lower Man­hat­tan, where he gazed down from a cat­walk at the de­bris from the Twin Tow­ers’ de­struc­tion. “It’s why he’s do­ing what he’s do­ing,” Tina Nagel said.

In fact, Nagel wanted to join the spe­cial forces, but “there were too many hoops to jump through,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave home and live on my own right out of high school.”

“He bleeds red, white and blue,” Mil­ton Nagel, who served in the Army Re­serves from 1988 to 1996, said of his son’s pa­tri­o­tism.

“It’s the way I was raised,” Nagel said. “Some­body’s got to pro­tect the coun­try.”

Nagel has two more years on his con­tract with the Re­serves and plans to con­tinue his ed­u­ca­tion at Sal­is­bur y University. He com­pleted his first two years at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege but missed the en­roll­ment dead­line for SU, where he’s ma­jor­ing in psy­chol­ogy and so­ci­ol­ogy with a mi­nor in his­tory. He even­tu­ally wants to get into fed­eral law en­force­ment.

In the mean­time, he’s “tr ying to ad­just to real life,” he said, by work­ing in main­te­nance for the Caro­line County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, where his fa­ther is as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent of schools. He plans to be­gin coach­ing the ju­nior var­sity base­ball team at Colonel Richard­son on March 1.

Nagel is glad he was able to serve his coun­try at Guan­tanamo Bay as one of the 28,000 troops who have served at the de­ten­tion cen­ter since it opened in 2002. Although it was or­dered closed by then-Pres­i­dent Obama on Jan. 22, 2009, it re­mains open.

Nagel said he sup­ports his com­man­der-in-chief, whether it was Pres­i­dent Obama or is Pres­i­dent Trump. As a re­sult of his tour, how­ever, he be­lieves it’s nec­es­sar y to keep the con­tro­ver­sial de­ten­tion camp open. “Ab­so­lutely, we need Gitmo,” he said. “It’s bet­ter to keep the de­tainees there than here.”

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Cpl. Lu­cas Nagel, a 2013 grad­u­ate of Colonel Richard­son High School, with his par­ents Tina and Mil­ton, and older brother J.T.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHO­TOS

Cpl. Lu­cas Nagel, cen­ter, at Gitmo with good friends Cpl. Ben Mey­ers and Spc. Tom McCar­ron.

Cpl. Lu­cas Nagel of Federalsburg was the only East­ern Shore­man who re­cently com­pleted a tour of duty with the 372nd Mil­i­tary Po­lice Com­pany, U.S. Army Re­serve, based near Cum­ber­land, Mary­land.

PHOTO BY CON­NIE CON­NOLLY

Cpl. Lu­cas Nagel of Federalsburg re­cently re­turned from a 10-month tour of duty at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba.

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