John Michael Montgomery: My Cuban Diary

John Michael Montgomery’s recent trip to Guantanamo Bay was an eye-opener and a heartwarming experience for the “Letters From Home” singer.

[As “Forever,” the latest single from his new Time Flies CD, climbed well into the Top 40, John Michael Montgomery took a break from his regular touring schedule to headline the Nov. 1 “Family Appreciation Weekend” concert on the U. S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. In his own words, here are John’s vivid memories of the four-day trip, the troops and, yes, the detainees he saw during his trip to a place that generates a lot of opinions, but few visitors.]

I’d never been to Cuba, but I’d read about it and thought I knew about it. But I kept asking myself, “What’s it gonna look like and how did we end up with a base in Cuba? Especially the southern part of Cuba.”

To get there, we flew from Nashville to Jacksonville and once we landed, we were met by some very nice hosts who took us to our quarters.  They took us on the border and there’s a little road and fence that separates the rest of Cuba and the base. They have lookout towers where they can see each other. And when we got down to the main gate they said, “There’s people over there watchin’ us just like we’re lookin’ over at their place. Don’t wave or anything like that.” I guess they feel like it might be antagonizing them or something. It’s all basic safety stuff.

They took us to Camp America and we got to see three stages of detainees—light, medium and heavy security. Some were out playing soccer and some of the light security may be up for being shipped back to their countries. The problem is, not too many countries want ‘em.

I was in a cell, and they showed me all the stuff they have . . . their tooth brush, prayer rug, clothing . . . everything they have access to. Considering they’re criminals from war, the place is absolutely spotless clean. And they have, right next door to that, they have a little hospital and they’re waited on hand and foot if they need a doctor. They’ve got medical care that they’ve never had in their whole life.

But they’re still prisoners . . . prisoners that have done or want to do bad things. They’ve released some of ‘em who ended up back in there again, ‘cause they were caught trying to do harm again.

I got to see a lot  more of Guantanamo Bay, you only hear about the detainees. You don’t hear about the rest of life that’s goin’ on down there.

It was more to the picture than meets the eye. I walked away with a lot more knowledge. And I can see why this base is useful down here. And I can see why us being in a foreign country that doesn’t want us there . . . I wouldn’t want to be somewhere where I’m not wanted. But Cuba is such a beautiful country, I hope we can wash it all under the bridge and Cuba can actually be a place that Americans can visit and enjoy. It’d be very beneficial for us to have good relations with Cuba one day.

I took my whole band down there, and it makes me feel good as a person because I hold the military in high regard. I’ve always felt like they are the heart and soul of this country. Growin’ up and watchin’ my uncles in the military, they were in the Viet Nam war, and I always felt like they were the true heroes, but they never really got the slap on the back saying “good job.”

I guess I just feel like I have an obligation to show our military people that they’re cared about and we appreciate what they do. Sometimes that’s not always on the front headlines.

For more on John Michael’s Cuban experience, check out the Jan. 12 issue of Country Weekly.

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