Navy calls up Wampanoag health director
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) held a party last week to say goodbye and good luck to health director Ron MacLaren, who left Tuesday this week to report for active duty in Norfolk, Va., for deployment to Kuwait on Nov. 1.
Capt. MacLaren has served in the U.S. Navy and as a reservist for 28 years. In June, he was notified of his upcoming mobilization as commander of the Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group Forward GOLF to assist the U.S. Army in a shore-type mission to provide customs and cargo handling. He will return home on May 15.
At last week's party, tribe members built a bonfire in the fire pit and sang traditional songs. "It was very, very uplifting, and not being a Native American, I was very honored," Capt. MacLaren said.
Capt. Ron MacLaren, U.S. Navy Reserve. Photos courtesy of Ron MacLaren
He has served as the tribe's health director for about two years. Capt. MacLaren was commissioned through Navy ROTC and served in the regular Navy from 1979 to 1983 before joining the reserves.
He and his wife Terrie, who is the home health aide scheduling coordinator for the Vineyard Nursing Association, vacationed on the Island for about 10-12 years before buying their home in Oak Bluffs in 2002. They moved to Martha's Vineyard from Houston when Capt. MacLaren retired in 2004.
The tribe's send-off was one of several for him over the past few weeks, including a surprise 50th birthday party at Eastville Beach.
In a phone call last Saturday, Capt. MacLaren said his first priority before he leaves is finishing up his "honey-do" list for his wife.
Describing his upcoming military duties, he explained, "In a nutshell, I'll be overseeing about 700 sailors, divided up into these different missions." One involves a customs battalion, which processes people in and out of Kuwait, as well as sanitizing equipment before it is shipped back to the U.S.
"We don't want foreign dirt, vegetation or pests coming back into the country," Capt. MacLaren said. "It's sort of like preventing skunks from coming to Martha's Vineyard."
Another mission involves offloading cargo in the port of Kuwait, keeping track of it, and preventing its theft. "It not like Martha's Vineyard, where you can leave your doors unlocked," Capt. MacLaren joked. He also will oversee specialty missions for smaller companies that will transport materials into Iraq.
Ron and Terrie MacLaren at home in Oak Bluffs.
"I'm pretty comfortable with my mission - it's what I've trained for for many years," the captain reflected. "I have some nervousness and apprehension about going into a new country, of course, but we do get cultural training to better understand the people.
Although he also is concerned about being away from home for so long, Capt. MacLaren said, "I count my blessings, because I could be gone for a year or two instead of eight and a half months."
Although this is the first time he has been mobilized for active duty as a reservist, Capt. MacLaren said he was not surprised his turn came up, considering his extensive expeditionary/logistics background and the fact he is the commanding officer of the Navy Supply Support Battalion Two. There are only two supply support battalions in the U.S., one for the east coast and one for the west coast, which has already performed a similar mission.
After processing in Norfolk, Capt. MacLaren will receive training in chemical, biological, and radiological defense in Williamsburg, followed by fitting for personal protection equipment, such as a gas mask with customized lenses and a Kevlar vest, and weapons training. "I'll leave at the end of October and have my boots on the ground in Kuwait on November 1," he said.
In the meantime, though, he plans to attend the commissioning ceremony for his son Brett, age 22, who will graduate this month from the U.S. Navy's Officer Candidate School at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. "I hope to be over there and have him raise his right hand and administer the oath to him," says the proud father.
After Brett receives his commission, he will attend nuclear propulsion school in Charleston to train to become a nuclear officer. "That's where he learns to glow in the dark," Capt. MacLaren joked.
His other son Brian, age 23, also serves in the Navy as an Aviation Boatswain's Mate stationed aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, a nuclear aircraft carrier currently deployed in the Persian Gulf. He is due home in December.
Capt. MacLaren is one of a number of Vineyarders called up to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom, including West Tisbury school principal Michael Halt, a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves. Mr. Halt is due to return from Iraq at the end of September.