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Mass. guardsman is killed at Guantanamo Bay base

WASHINGTON -- A Massachusetts man serving in the Army National Guard was found dead this week at the war on terrorism prison operation at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, the Department of Defense announced yesterday.

 

Sergeant Theodore L. Perreault, a 33-year-old volunteer firefighter from Webster, died Dec. 23 from noncombat-related injuries, a Pentagon statement said.

Reached in Cuba, Lieutenant Colonel Pamela Hart, an operation spokeswoman, said the injury was a gunshot wound to the head sustained while Perreault was in an arms storage room belonging to his infantry unit, the First Battalion of the 181st Infantry Regiment.

"Last Tuesday evening, a gunshot was heard coming from the vicinity of the 1-181st Infantry mobile arms room," Hart said. "Soldiers arrived at the scene and found Sergeant Perreault wounded from what appeared to be a gunshot wound to his head. Emergency medical personnel arrived very quickly, but he was pronounced dead on the scene."

She said the incident remains under investigation by the Navy Criminal Investigative Service and has not yet been categorized as a homicide, a suicide, or an accident.

The base will hold a memorial service for Perreault today at 1 p.m.

"We send our prayers and our deepest sympathies to the Perreault family," Hart said. "Sergeant Perreault was a fine soldier. We lost a member of our family."

The Pentagon called up Perreault's National Guard unit and sent it to Cuba in September for a one-year tour of duty. Its primary responsibilities are to patrol the land around Camp Delta, as the military calls the prison facility where it is holding and interrogating some 660 "enemy combatants" -- suspected members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban captured in the Afghanistan war.

Members of the unit daily put on combat makeup and patrol the area on foot and in Humvees, looking for anything unusual.

The military said Perreault died in Camp Bulkeley. That area of the base is the older section of what is now called Camp America, a rapidly growing development of sea huts and more permanent dormatories for soldiers who serve in the Camp Delta operation. Perched atop a seaside cliff about a quarter-mile from Camp Delta, it consists mainly of housing, dining facilities, and other areas for off-duty activities.

The military held off making the announcement until it had informed Perreault's family, which was done on Christmas Eve, Hart said.

The incident marks a rare casualty for the Guantanamo Bay operation, which is considered by soldiers to be among the choicest assignments in the war on terrorism because it is much safer than Iraq or Afghanistan. The death was the first time since September 2002 that a soldier serving at Camp Delta has died on the base. The last death was a missing soldier whose body was never found; he is presumed to have drowned.

Perreault's family found out about his death when an army official visited their modest home on Main Street in Webster, a small town about 20 miles south of Worcester.

"It's been a tough Christmas," his wife, Trina, said yesterday.

But he loved the military, joining the National Guard when he was 17 years old and never looking back. He and Trina had been sweethearts at Bartlett High School and married shortly afterward. They have two daughters, 15-year-old Samantha and 13-year-old Kyrsten.

Perreault was called up shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and spent a year stationed in Fort Monmouth, N.J.

While there, his daughters made flags out of beads and sold them at a church craft fair and a flea market. With the money raised, they bought a television and VCR for their father's unit for Christmas 2001.

They raised still more money to buy an outdoor grill, which the Guardsmen brought with them to Cuba when they were deployed in August. The fund-raising projects were, Trina Perreault said, the children's way of coping with their father's absence.

Yesterday, the girls offered guests candy-cane shaped sugar cookies they had baked.

Flags flew at half-staff at both Webster firehouses yesterday, as news of Perreault's death spread quickly among his fellow firefighters. He had been with the department for more than 10 years, his rugged, stocky build and quiet manner a familiar presence at Engine Company 3. "It was a very sad time when we all found out," Fire Captain Ron Fournier said yesterday. "We have a very tight group. Every one of us in the company are going to miss him."

Globe correspondents Donovan Slack and Melissa Kaplan contributed to this report.

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