Guantanamo Task Force Stands Tall in Tough Mission

NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Nov. 4, 2010 — Duty with Joint Task Force Guan­tanamo is one of the most demand­ing assign­ments in the mil­i­tary, but task force mem­bers rec­og­nize its impor­tance and strate­gic impli­ca­tions for the Unit­ed States and its troops in harm’s way, their com­man­der said.

The 2,000 men and women serv­ing here – a mix of ser­vice­mem­bers, gov­ern­ment employ­ees and civil­ian con­trac­tors – rec­og­nize the impor­tance of their job pro­vid­ing “safe, humane, legal and trans­par­ent” care for 174 detainees at the facil­i­ty, Navy Rear Adm. Jef­frey Harbe­son told the Army Reserve chief, Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, who vis­it­ed here last week.

Sol­diers and sailors of the Joint Deten­tion Group post­ed as guards at the base’s nine camps make up more than half of the task force. They typ­i­cal­ly pull 15- to 16-hour work days six days a week, per­form­ing a mis­sion that Harbe­son said demands extra­or­di­nary self-con­trol and dis­ci­pline in the face of ver­bal insults, fly­ing body flu­ids and oth­er assaults from detainees.

“This is the most chal­leng­ing job in the mil­i­tary today, by virtue of what these indi­vid­u­als have to endure and expe­ri­ence,” he said.

“You have to have iron dis­ci­pline,” agreed Army Col. Don­nie Thomas, the Joint Detec­tion Group com­man­der. “We know we have actors here who are still in the fight, … and they try to incite the guard force. It’s incred­i­ble to see the pro­fes­sion­al­ism [the guards] demon­strate, and how they treat these detainees with dig­ni­ty and respect.”

Thanks to new mea­sures at the facil­i­ty, assaults on the guards have dropped dra­mat­i­cal­ly dur­ing the past year, Harbe­son report­ed.

In Jan­u­ary 2009, one-third of the detainees at Guan­tanamo Bay lived in com­mu­nal set­tings, spend­ing 20 hours each day out­side their cells with free access to recre­ation equip­ment, TV, radio, library books and a food pantry. Today, 89 per­cent of the detainees live com­mu­nal­ly, and offi­cials here are con­sid­er­ing con­vert­ing a wing in the max­i­mum-secu­ri­ty Camp 5 to allow even more.

Mean­while, assaults on the guard force plum­met­ed, from 1,100 in 2009 to 110 so far in 2010.

“We attribute that to the com­mu­nal envi­ron­ment, with less actu­al guard-detainee inter­ac­tion” because most detainees no longer need to be escort­ed to show­ers and recre­ation­al facil­i­ties, Harbe­son explained. “That has min­i­mized the source of fric­tion between guard and detainees. … So it’s been a win-win all around.”

Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Calkins, a non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer at Guan­tanamo Bay’s Camp 5, said he’s seen huge changes since he left from his pre­vi­ous tour here in April 2008. “The detainees have calmed down a lot,” he said. “We had peo­ple get­ting ’splashed’ every day. It hap­pened all the time.”

Now, there’s a big incen­tive for detainees to resist such behav­ior, which can get them trans­ferred from the com­mu­nal “ultra-light” facil­i­ty at Camp 6 to Camp 5 – the task force’s ver­sion of “time out.” Instead of get­ting 20 hours each day out­side their cells at Camp 6, detainees at Camp 5 get just four.

“Typ­i­cal­ly, when they come to us, they want to get back to Camp 6,” Calkins said. “So they will cause all these prob­lems over [at Camp 6], and when they come to me, they’ll get real­ly, real­ly qui­et. They don’t want to stay here.”

While Calkins and his fel­low Army guards at Camp 5 are trained cor­rec­tion­al spe­cial­ists, their Navy coun­ter­parts at Camp 6 come from a vari­ety of back­grounds — – air­craft mechan­ics, logis­ti­cians and some mas­ters at arms, explained Navy Ensign Paul Fogel, the camp’s assis­tant offi­cer in charge. All received four weeks of spe­cial­ized train­ing at Fort Bliss, Texas, before report­ing to Guan­tanamo.

Navy Lt. Sean McMichael, the Camp 6 com­man­der, said he’s impressed by how well his sailors have made the trans­for­ma­tion after vol­un­teer­ing for duty at Guan­tanamo Bay, or in some cas­es, he said, being “vol­un-told.”

“It’s dynam­ic,” McMichael said. “The guards have to remem­ber what we’re here for and main­tain their vig­i­lance at all times. … They have to main­tain their cool, even when you’re spit in the face.”

Pulling duty in this envi­ron­ment requires a unique way of think­ing about the detainees, he said. “You have to have a mind­set that these are res­i­dents,” he explained. “If you think of them as ter­ror­ists and go with that mind­set, you can’t be fair and firm and impar­tial. And that’s the stand we take as we con­duct all our oper­a­tions here.”

Calkins, who has expe­ri­enced the insult of being “splashed” him­self, mar­vels at his young sol­diers’ self-restraint. “These sol­diers are amaz­ing,” he said. “They get splashed. They get called every name in the book, … and they go wash them­selves off and come back for more.”

Armed with noth­ing but pep­per spray and strict rules about when they can use it, the guards learn to use oth­er tools to get detainees to coop­er­ate.

“It’s not like in [the com­bat] the­ater, where you have a weapon,” said Calkins. “Here, your weapon is your abil­i­ty to talk to peo­ple. If you can talk to the detainees, you can make them real­ize that, ‘Hey, I am here to do a job and that is all. This is noth­ing per­son­al.’ ”

Guards say their biggest frus­tra­tion here isn’t the occa­sion mis­treat­ment they get from detainees; it’s what they view as wide­ly held mis­con­cep­tions about how they treat the detainees.

Detainees select their three meals each day from six dif­fer­ent menus, have access to 24/7 med­ical care and are issued prayer rugs, Qurans and oth­er reli­gious arti­cles to prac­tice their faith. They also get access to news­pa­pers in a vari­ety of lan­guages, as well as 18 satel­lite chan­nels, 11 radio chan­nels, a full library of mate­ri­als, and class­es in sub­jects includ­ing the pop­u­lar new key­board com­put­er class.

“When peo­ple ask me why we’re offer­ing com­put­er class­es to detainees, I tell them, ‘We want the detainees to focus on this, not on how to ’splash’ the next guard,” Harbe­son said. But no mat­ter how well they do their jobs, Navy Capt. Sharon Camp­bell, the task force’s chief of staff, acknowl­edged the real­i­ty of serv­ing in what many here con­sid­er a high­ly under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed mis­sion.

“We are doing an impor­tant job, detain­ing ene­my bel­liger­ents brought here from the bat­tle­field, and pro­vid­ing safe, humane and trans­par­ent care for them as the legal process is worked,” she said. “But there are no acco­lades here, so we have to con­cen­trate on keep­ing peo­ple pumped up. We real­ly have to work to keep each oth­er moti­vat­ed.”

Mean­while, the task force mem­bers rec­og­nize that their every action here is eyed through what some­times feels like a micro­scope, and counts in how the world sees them per­son­al­ly, the U.S. mil­i­tary and the Unit­ed States.

“It’s a very polit­i­cal­ly charged mis­sion in the sense that if we don’t do it right it neg­a­tive­ly reflects on the gov­ern­ment and the coun­try,” Fogel said. “Every reac­tion you make or every action you don’t take could poten­tial­ly be some­thing that could real­ly be a not-so-good thing.

“That’s a lot to put on the shoul­ders of 19- to 25-year-olds,” he said. “But their actions real­ly do project what and how we are looked upon by the world.”

Anoth­er moti­vat­ing force, Calkins said, is the recog­ni­tion that how the mis­sion is con­duct­ed here has a direct impact on troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. He still gri­maces when he thinks about the reper­cus­sions from detainee mis­treat­ment at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

“What we do def­i­nite­ly can have an impact,” he said. “Sol­diers are still get­ting hurt [as a result of what hap­pened at Abu Ghraib.]”

Calkins said he reg­u­lar­ly reminds his sol­diers that they stand square­ly on a front line in the war on vio­lent extrem­ism.

“I tell my sol­diers that every­body has their piece, what­ev­er that piece may be – whether you are in the States, whether you are in Afghanistan, whether you are in Iraq, or whether you are here at Git­mo,” he said. “And I feel that our piece is vital.

“Any­thing that these sol­diers do or don’t do can have an effect on what hap­pens to our sol­diers” serv­ing in the com­bat the­ater,” he added.

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →