'Vigilant Warriors' provide professional care of GTMO detainees
August 25, 2011
These two words are not only the motto of U.S. Army South's 525th Military Police Battalion, but they embody the mindset of the Soldiers serving within its ranks.
Their mission is one of the most challenging the Army has to offer: providing command, control and operational support to the high-risk detention operations at Guantanamo Bay.
The Soldiers are so good at what they do that since 2004, the people of the United States have entrusted them to conduct safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detainees as part of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel F. Borrero, the senior enlisted Soldier of the 525th MP Bn.
"Personally, professionally, any way you want to say it, they perform outstandingly and that's not giving them enough credit," said Borrero. "A Soldier who stands a post for 12 to 15 hours a day, every day, epitomizes the definition of selfless service. They put that uniform on for their battle buddies to the left and right of them and for everyone back in the United States."
One of the 525th's specific tasks is to operate Camp 5, a state-of-the-art, two-story, maximum-security detention facility that can hold approximately 100 individuals. Camp 5 houses those detainees deemed to be the highest threat to themselves, other detainees or guards.
"It's a very difficult and challenging mission but our Soldiers are up to the call each and every day," said Lt. Col. Christopher V. Wynder, commander of the 525th Military Police Battalion. "Each understands they have a role in the success of the battalion whether they are a support Soldier or one of the guard force personnel that work inside the camps."
Camp guards work 12-hour shifts with a schedule of four days on and two days off. This is in addition to standard Soldier-training requirements they conduct before or after their 12-hour shifts.
"The challenges of a long, hard duty day, four to five days a week, sometimes six days a week, are immense," said Borrero. "Couple that with additional mandatory military training and, considering the residents that are here, this is probably the most challenging place to do this mission."
It's a challenge the 525th's Soldiers are eager to take on, according to a guard who has served at Camp 5 for the past six months.
"Remaining vigilant at all times is a big challenge," said the 525th internment relocation specialist, who, like all guards at Guantanamo's detention facilities, is required to remain anonymous.
"You have to make sure you don't get complacent. You do it day in and day out and can start finding shortcuts but you can't fall into that."
Caring for detainees includes a full spectrum of activities for which guards are responsible, including providing hand-served meals, continuously conducting detainee checks, providing access to medical care, creating an appropriate environment for religious worship, and providing intellectual stimulation through books, newspapers, magazines and television.
"The Soldiers always have to be mindful that they're here to do a professional job," said Wynder. "They can't focus on things the detainees may have done prior to coming here, but have to provide them with quality custody and care."
Professionalism is first and foremost, according to the Camp 5 noncommissioned officer in charge. In fact, he said the guards take pride in improving the lives of detainees under their care.
"When a detainee raises an issue, we do our best to take care of whatever that issue is," the Camp 5 NCOIC said, "Improving their living conditions and their quality of life, and addressing the various issues they have are very rewarding."
Yet Master Sgt. Mitchell Darknell, a 525th staff NCOIC, submits that guards must also always be mindful of the potential for bad things to happen. Detainee assaults on the guard force, both verbally and physically, occur on a regular basis.
"There's always the situation where if the guards react too quickly, they're overreacting, and if they don't act soon enough, they didn't take appropriate measures," said Darknell. "This mission is so important and so scrutinized that they are held to a high standard to ensure procedures and policies are precisely followed."
Clear standard operating procedures are strictly adhered to at all times, said Wynder, and standardization teams conduct internal audits to ensure this. There is also active, on-site supervision by the chain of command.
Most guards are assigned to the detention facility for at least one year. Before arriving, each receives pre-deployment training to ensure they are professionally prepared for the mission. Training is conducted in a mock facility created specifically for guard personnel. In addition to predeployment training, on-the-job training is conducted upon arrival.
"They come here with the knowledge, skills and abilities to conduct the detention operations mission," said Wynder. "We make sure, with the pre-service training, that they receive the hands-on training that they need to do the job correctly."
Along with the training, inherent traits are needed to be successful at the Camp 5 facility.
"It takes Soldiers with good interpersonal communication skills to maintain their professionalism," said Wynder. "It takes a lot of maturity and poise by all Soldiers inside the camp, regardless of their rank. The Soldiers understand that we owe the United States of America our very best in terms of providing the best possible care and humane treatment of the detainees, and we have to be on the moral high ground at all times.
"Our sons and daughters back home can rest assured that we're doing quality work and that we're putting forward our best effort to represent the United States of America," Wynder added.
Editor's Note: U.S. Army South, as the Army Service Component Command for U.S. Southern Command, conducts theater security cooperation with its Latin American and Caribbean partners in order to enhance hemispheric security and stability. It conducts contingency operations as directed by SOUTHCOM.