Operation Tribute to Freedom

Faces From the Front for January 24, 2011 - Sgt. 1st Class Laura VanGilder

Sergeant First Class Laura VanGilder

Current Unit: 193rd Military Police Battalion
Current Position: Intelligence and Security Noncommissioned Officer-in-Charge
Component: National Guard
Current Location: Bagram, Afghanistan
Hometown: McConnelsville, Ohio
Years of Service: 24

Detainee operations play a significant role in Afghanistan, especially while U.S. Forces work with the Afghan National Army to rebuild the country and overcome extremism. Given the importance of detainee operations in accomplishing the Army’s mission and the delicate nature with which the assignment must be handled, it is no surprise that a seasoned Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Laura VanGilder, was selected to serve as the intelligence and security noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP).

DFIP is a state-of-the-art detention facility equipped with a medical clinic, on-site family visitation center, vocational facilities and educational classrooms. VanGilder, who has spent 24 years in the Army and received a Bronze Star Medal for her previous deployment to Iraq with the 220th Military Police Battalion, is charged with overseeing the detainee population at DFIP on a day-to-day basis and managing twelve Soldiers who help run the facility.

In this role, VanGilder must promote safe protocol and make certain all prisoners are treated fairly and justly.

“Our role is to provide care and custody with dignity and respect, while ensuring that persons who wish to do harm to U.S. Forces are detained,” VanGilder explained.

VanGilder and her Soldiers must handle a plethora of different issues to ensure that DFIP runs smoothly.

“We manage the intake, release and transfer of various detainees and determine where detainees are housed, whether it be communal accommodations or segregated lodging,” VanGilder explained. “We manage every aspect of the detainee life cycle, from feeding and clothing them to assisting them in observance of their religion.”

While VanGilder and her Soldiers know the importance of their work, it does not lessen the emotional impact of dealing with detainees on a regular basis. Inmates held against their will and outside of their element can be difficult to interact with.

“One of the most challenging aspects of this deployment is the mental toll that the demands of detainees can bring,” VanGilder explained.

VanGilder relies on the support of her family to maintain the strength to complete her mission each day. Her husband, Richard VanGilder, recently retired from the Army as a chief warrant officer and, having deployed many times, he understands the difficulties VanGilder is facing.

“Being a dual military couple does make for a better understanding of what the other person is going through,” Sgt. 1st Class VanGilder said. “We both understand the toll a deployment can take and we try hard to understand the demands.”

VanGilder is expected to return from deployment in early 2011. She plans to celebrate a belated Christmas with her husband and son, and looks forward to visiting relatives. She will then return to her position as the readiness noncommissioned officer for her battalion’s headquarters, where she will remain until her planned retirement from the Army in 2012.

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