Rocky Point High School, 12 November 2021
Rocky Point High School, Suffolk County, Long Island, NY, is a very patriotic place in a very patriotic community. Military veterans, volunteer firefighters, first responders, neighbors, and leaders of all kinds have contributed to myriad memorials and honors there since 9/11/2001.
The school boasts annual Veterans Day assemblies featuring veterans, high school band and small group music, multi-media presentations and rapt students.
The school has a 9/11 memorial outside it main entrance in honor of the sacrifice of community member on that day.
High School social studies teacher, coach and student leadership mentor, Mr. Rich Acritelli has spearheaded the school’s military honor wall, which highlight’s the school’s graduates who have joined the military service. This is in the main hallway and covers 50′ of surface on one side, and on the other facing wall is a similar tribute display for school staff members who have served. The picture plaques features color photos of the person in uniform along with their name and place in an are identified with their branch of service. There is also a small section dedicated to Navy LT Michael Murphy, a local deceased medal of honor winner from the War on Terror.
I have known Rich Acritelli for over 20 years, through high school athletics and then the military. Rich is a great friend and generous soul. I have been invited to speak at the annual Veterans Day Assembly a few times and am always impressed and amazed at the complete respect and sincerity of the students, staff and administration. The principal, Mr. Jonathan Hart was present for the entire ceremony and was engaged and supportive of Mr. Acritelli and the school participants and audience.
Mr. Acritelli told me I had 7-8 minutes for a speech to the audience of over 100 11th grade US History students. Rich has always been supportive of my service and a great fan of my book, “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay.” Here is my speech:
VETERANS DAY ASSEMBLY
ROCKY POINT HIGH SCHOOL
November 12, 2021
Thank you, Mr. Acritelli, and Principal Hart for inviting me here today to speak with you on the occasion of Veterans Day.
I am a three-times mobilized retired Army Major and served 22 years, starting out as a combat medic for five years, then Officer Candidate School, and then as a Medical Service Corps officer.
The last nine years of my service were spent in Military Police Enemy Prisoner of War liaison units, as the Field Medical Assistant, in charge of medical, preventive medical and environmental services for Enemy Prisoner of War operations.
After 9/11, I was deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as the ranking US Army Medical Department officer with the Joint Detainee Operations Group, Joint Task Force 160. In short, I helped take care of bad guys.
After my retirement from the Army in 2008, I became very disappointed in the media coverage about Gitmo. I felt the media unfairly portrayed the operation as less than humane, which I knew was simply not true.
My colleagues and I, from all branches of the US military, Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and the Coast Guard, were dedicated, well trained, and served with honor and integrity.
International Committee of the Red Cross physicians I worked with there told me, “No one does detention operations better than the US.” We were the best, and I knew it.
My frustration over the inaccurate reports about Gitmo led me to write a memoir about my time there called “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay.” It isn’t the whole story, but I like to think of it as a small piece to the big puzzle of the enigma we call Gitmo.
When last I spoke here I brought a few hard cover first edition copies of my book with me and donated them to the students and the school. I am here to do the same with the second edition, soft cover; one copy for Principal Hart as a dedication to your school library, and one to Mr. Acritelli to hold a raffle for interested students who might want a copy.
Not too long ago, a short documentary film was made about my experience at Gitmo, called “Heroes of Gitmo,” which is available on YouTube. Please check it out. Heroes of Gitmo.
I remember my service there as some of the most challenging times of my life, and I called it an emotional train wreck. In early 2002, at the beginning of the mission at Gitmo, we were told by then Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, that even though the detainees, who were all at least unlawful combatants, were not entitled to the protections and privileges of the Geneva Conventions, we would treat them however, he said, “within the spirit of Geneva.” That’s all we needed to hear. We only trained one way, the right way. And even though we may have hated the detainees for taking us away from our families, friends and careers, we were duty bound to treat them with dignity and respect.
Detainees are given FREE, Qurans, prayer rugs and beads, white robes, beards, directions to Mecca, halal and Muslim holy holiday meals including lamb and baklava, services of US military Muslim chaplains, world class health, dental and vision care, recreation, books, TV, DVDs, correspondence, sports and more.
741 detainees have been released, about 39 remain and none have been executed or brutalized the way our enemies have treated US or allied prisoners. There is no moral comparison between Gitmo and how our enemies treat their captives.
With all this said, there was Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, or EIT performed on a handful of detainees at Gitmo in order to obtain valuable information that saved many lives. Those techniques have been labeled torture after the fact, and did not meet the internationally accepted definition of torture at the time. The techniques were not performed by Army personnel nor any Department of Defense personnel, but by CIA operatives trained in the techniques.
Torture is wrong, but at the time, the techniques used were legal and approved. Since then, the techniques have been outlawed and even though one technique, waterboarding, has been singled out as particularly cruel, it was used in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training for US personnel scheduled to deploy overseas who might be at risk of kidnapping by our enemies. The training was to help prepare US personnel for potential waterboarding by our enemies. It is not lethal unless performed by poorly trained individuals.
My advice to you though is to not take my word for it, but research for yourself about the US operation at Guantanamo Bay, which is still ongoing. There is plenty to read, but mostly from former detainees, trained to lie about their treatment in captivity. I know some of these men through social media, have read their books and shared mine with them. To this day, we agree to disagree about certain facts surrounding their participation in the Global War on Terror and their detention.
Veterans Day is a special day when we, as a society turn to say “thank you” to our veterans, who wrote a blank check to all of us for everything up to and including their lives. It’s been said that, greater love hath no one than this: that a person lay down their life for their friends.
Thank you for taking the time to honor me and the other veterans here today. I appreciate your kind attention and loyal support very much.
When you see a veteran, thank them for their service, welcome them home and ask them about their service. What job did they have? How was the food? Do you remember a funny story? Would you do it all over again?
Some veterans would jump at the chance to talk with a young person about their service, and some might not. But you never know unless you ask.
In closing, always remember to think for yourselves. Don’t let anyone discount your thoughts or feelings about things that are important to you. But be gracious in your conversations and seek to truly understand what the other person is trying to communicate. This takes patience, consideration and thoughtfulness. But don’t ever mistake kindness for weakness. It is the strongest among us who are also the most kind.
Thank you and God bless.
Montgomery J. Granger
Major, US Army, Retired
It was great to be a part of something so special with people who care so deeply about the sacrifice and dedication of veterans. Michael Murphy’s father, Dan was present and spoke before I did at the assembly. It was humbling to see a man so full of pride for his son, lost in the service of his country, taking up the standard of selfless service, honor and integrity – which his son displayed and demonstrated while in uniform in the service of his country.
God bless America!