Top Enlisted Advisor Impressed With Gitmo Troop Quality, Dedication
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Nov. 23, 2005 At the tail end of his first visit here, the recently appointed senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he's "happy with the quality of people you see here."
Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey (standing), senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shares a light moment with Army Cpl. Ronnie Pimentel and Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Miller (right), both of Troop C, 1st Battalion, 18th Cavalry Regiment, in a dining facility at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Nov. 22. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. "Joe" Gainey said he is impressed with the dedication he witnessed during a brief visit Nov. 22.
He told several servicemembers they should take pride in their mission. "Display the pride that you have in your service, because pride is contagious," he told two senior petty officers he met at Camp Delta, the U.S. military detention facility for enemy combatants captured in the global war on terror.
Leaders of Joint Task Force Guantanamo and troops Gainey met here went to great pains to debunk what leaders here call misrepresentations widely reported by civilian media outlets.
For instance, guards here were earnest in discounting reports that guards or interrogators disrespected copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book. "It's very strictly enforced; we do not touch this," Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Mack Keene, the first sergeant of Camp 2/3, an area of Camp Delta, said as he pointed to a copy of the Koran hung in "a place of honor" in an unoccupied cell.
A short while later, Gainey asked another guard if he would ever touch a detainee's Koran. The guard, an Army sergeant first class, appeared to recoil in shock at the suggestion. "Oh no, Sergeant Major," he responded.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Angel Febles, the joint task force senior enlisted advisor, pointed out that no interrogation room at any Guantanamo Bay facility has a toilet. His comments were in reference to an oft-reported claim that a Koran was flushed down a toilet during an interrogation. "No interrogation rooms have anything capable of flushing a Koran," he said.
"As far as (the detainees') religion goes, we do the best we can to ensure that they can observe it," Keene said.
He explained to Gainey that during prayer call five times a day in keeping with Muslim practice, guards place a "prayer cone," a traffic cone painted bright yellow with "P" stenciled on it, in the center of each cell block as a signal for the guards to maintain silence out of respect.
Keene said he has faith in the professionalism and restraint of the guard force at Guantanamo Bay. "I have guards that come in and work this block, and (sometimes they get) covered in urine and feces," he said. "They come out and wash their (uniform top) off and go back in, and they never lose their cool."
He said detainees attempt to assault guards at least once a week. In fact, Keene added, the morning of Gainey's visit a detainee tried to head-butt a guard. On hearing of the attempted assault, Gainey asked what the response from guards was.
"He was assisted to the deck," Navy Chief Petty Officer Ronald Cloutier Jr., a platoon leader at Camp 2/3, responded, using the Navy term for floor to describe the proper law-enforcement technique for dealing with a violent prisoner.
Cloutier told Gainey he is impressed because the Navy deployed sailors here individually and in small groups from throughout the service and they have built a cohesive unit. "The sailors that are here want to be here," he said.
He attributed this cohesion to good training, enforcing standards and strong leadership.
"Adherence to standards is so important," Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Balch, U.S. Southern Command senior enlisted advisor, said. Balch accompanied Gainey here. "Any mishap would have international ramifications," he said.
"What you do is so important," Balch told several sailors. "We just can't slip one inch."
Navy Chief Petty Officer Pamela Branum, the senior enlisted leader for the detachment hospital, dismissed reports that hunger-striking detainees are being violently force-fed by inserting large and unsanitary nasal feeding tubes without lubricant or anesthesia.
She said the tubes are tiny -- 4 millimeters, officials said -- and flexible and are always inserted using lubricant and local anesthetic, as is common medical practice. "That's our standard operating procedure," she said. "And we don't waver from it."
Gainey visited several base facilities and sought out junior enlisted troops at each stop. During a tour of Camp America, a junior enlisted billeting area consisting of prefabricated one-room "hooches," Gainey came across a group of young servicemembers conducting an impromptu jam session.
As Gainey approached, the troops stopped playing their music out of embarrassment, but the sergeant major encouraged them to continue. He even "played" along on a percussion instrument.
"We're just trying to bring a little bit of Tijuana to Gitmo," one servicemember said, using the popular sobriquet for the island base.
At every point, Gainey provided words of encouragement. "The next master chief petty officer of the Navy could be in this room," he told some two dozen sailors assembled at the base's new detainee mental-health facility.
"I'm very proud of each of you," he said. "And I'm proud to be a part of your team."