GTMO's Guard Force Maintains Professionalism Despite Scrutiny

GTMO's Guard Force Maintains Professionalism Despite ScrutinyEdit

Story by 1st Lt. Macario Mora
Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Madrid
JTF Guantanamo Public Affairs

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three part series. The identification of soldiers operating in the Joint Detention Group has been omitted due to operational security.

The misinformed hyperbole about Joint Task Force Guantanamo’s mission has persisted from the earliest days in the temporary Camp X-ray to present detention operations in multi-million dollar facilities, comparable to federal institutions. But, that doesn’t weigh on the typical service member who serves their deployment adhering to the unofficial motto – Don’t love, Don’t hate.

“I don’t do anything here out of emotion or spite,” said Army Col. David Heath, the Joint Detention Group commander who’s roughly halfway through a two year assignment. “Is it the right thing to do to keep the guards safe? That’s my number one concern, the safety of the guards.”

Heath, who has 25 years of law-enforcement experience that includes corrections operations at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and detainee operations in Iraq, has ensured his leadership philosophy has resonated with his troops. The commander’s intent is clearly stated for all the guards to understand, according to a platoon sergeant with 670th Military Police Company, a National Guard unit out of National City, California.

“Regardless if this place closes down or not, we’re here to do a job. That’s to conduct detainee operations,” said a camp officer-in-charge with the 447th Military Police Co., a U.S. Army Reserve unit out of North Canton, Ohio.

The officer-in-charge reiterated that morale hasn’t been impacted or influenced by the JTF’s sometimes-negative portrayal in the media. There’s an understanding amongst the leadership and troops that the mission is unique.

“There are four steps between the JDG and the White House,” Heath explained. “We understand we’re in a strategically important position.”

Not only is GTMO in a strategically important position, it has captured the imagination of journalists and citizens alike from the earliest pictures of detainees in orange jumpsuits kneeling, albeit briefly, at Camp X-ray to continued debates amongst politicians worldwide about the validity of such operations.

“The detention facility at GTMO is watched closely by the White House, Congress and the courts,” said Army Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III, the Defense Department Spokesman for Detainee Policy and Matters related to GTMO’s detention facilities. “Each day, journalists from around the world inquire about the status of detainees and the policy of detaining them.”

The external interest in the JDG’s operations in Guantanamo isn’t lost on the leadership or the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines who rotate through the JTF on six, nine-month and sometimes yearlong deployments.

“The type of detainees we have, and some of the activities they participated in, makes them different than a person sentenced for crimes in the United States,” Caggins explained from his Pentagon office. “The activists who argue for the closure of GTMO frequently speak in non-factual hyperbole. And, they are able to influence the perceptions of uninformed people.”

Caggins further explained, “Typically, after journalists visit GTMO and tour the facilities, including direct observation of detainees, they realize there’s much less mystery about the place than they expected.”

Read more in next week’s edition of “The Wire.”