Building Military Police Unit From Scratch No Easy Task
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, March 24, 2005 When then-Maj. Kevin Burk arrived here Aug. 31, he was commander of a unit that essentially didn't exist -- no buildings to work in, no equipment or supplies, and no soldiers.
He was promoted to lieutenant colonel the very next day and got to work building the 525th Military Police Battalion from the ground up.
The 525th has existed on paper since Oct. 16. The unit officially stood up and assumed duties "inside the wire" of the enemy-combatant detention center here during a ceremony March 21.
"There's a lot of issues involved in standing something up from nothing," explained Army Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Graves, the senior enlisted soldier in Burk's battalion. "When you come into a job and you assume a job, there's a past there, systems and everything that's in place. We showed up here and there's not a lot of systems in place.
"There weren't barracks; it wasn't logistically set; all of our equipment's not here; people are coming in, and we're training people," added Graves, who arrived here Dec. 17. "And while we're training and standing up, we're already assuming the mission."
For now, the 525th consists of two company-sized elements, a headquarters detachment and the 189th MP Company. The detachment consists of all the elements normally associated with a separate brigade or battalion headquarters: staff officers, medical experts, engineers, legal staff and other support specialists. The 189th is providing guards for at least two individual detainee camps, including Camp 5, where high-value and high-risk detainees are housed, and Camp Echo, where detainees awaiting trial by military commission are held.
Army Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, commander of joint Task Force Guantanamo, said Burk has "his hands full."
"At the same time that he's executing that operational task, he also has the task of continuing to build, develop, train and meet Army standards with his new troopers that come in and join his battalion," Hood said.
Soon, the headquarters detachment also will be able to assume operational control of other military police units attached to the battalion. Burk said once the unit's manning and equipment levels get to where they should be, then the 525th will be able to accept attachment or deployment of units to the base under its operational command and control. "We anticipate getting to operational capacity some time in mid-May," he noted.
Even if the 525th still is a work in progress, a tremendous amount of progress already has been made. When Army 1st Lt. Brent Hamilton arrived here Nov. 9, he had his work as the unit's engineer cut out for him. "There were five or six officers on the ground, and maybe 15 or 20 soldiers, and no supply system set up yet," Hamilton said. "So for me as an engineer, it was hard to build anything, because it was hard to buy supplies."
For the most part, the unit was assigned buildings that had been in disuse. Others had been used for temporary billeting of soldiers. All needed to be refurbished to transform them into functional office space. "There's always work to do," he said, "but I think we're in a much better position now than we were when most of us got here."
Hamilton's current main project is building a "high-speed" supply facility for the unit. The main beneficiary of that new supply facility will be Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Maina, the unit's property book officer. When Maina arrived at Guantanamo Bay on Dec. 28, some unit supplies already had been ordered by another officer and noncommissioned officer from U.S. Army South, Joint Task Force Guantanamo's parent command.
"I found out they had ordered property for (headquarters and headquarters detachment) and the 189th," Maina said. "Not all the property was ordered, but most of the (mission-essential) equipment was on order. And we had started to receive some of that equipment."
Now Maina's focus is on ordering equipment for the 193rd MP Company, another company of guards due to be stood up under the 525th later this year. "I'm in the process of coordinating equipment for that unit, so that when it gets activated ... it'll have equipment on hand."
Burk admits standing up the 525th hasn't been without a hitch. For instance, he said, the unit was supposed to be manned to 100 percent strength by now. But that hasn't quite happened yet.
Still, he said, just getting to this point is quite an accomplishment. "This has been fun, but it's been hard too," he said. "We've had our moments where it feels like we're beating our heads against the wall.
"But overall I think we can look back now and see a lot of progress," the commander added. "And I'm sure there'll be a lot more."