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Navy Standing Up Provisional Unit to Provide Guantanamo Guards

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, April 1, 2005 – For the next 18 months to two years, the Navy will be providing a large chunk of the guards at the U.S. enemy combatant detention facility here.

"Because it's a joint mission, the Joint Staff decided it was the Navy's turn to source some of the guard-force requirements," said Navy Capt. Lewis Nygard, officer in charge of the Navy provisional guard force here. "So the Navy said, 'Aye, aye,' and marched off and said, 'We'll build this provisional guard force and man the portion of the mission down here.'"

The Navy guards here are members of the master-at-arms career field. Navy masters-at-arms specialize in law enforcement, security, force protection, and correctional custody. Nygard explained the detainee mission at Guantanamo Bay has subtle differences from the MAs' normal day-to-day duties.

"It's not a correctional job in which we're trying to rehabilitate a sailor who has gone wrong and made a mistake and is being disciplined for that mistake," Nygard said. "We're here for the safe and humane treatment of detainees for the period in which we're assigned the mission."

Sailors in the provisional guard force typically are deployed here for six months. Nygard said the sailors arriving here now likely will be followed by at least two more rotations of other sailors.

The Navy doesn't have deployable units of masters-at-arms. Sailors in this specialty generally are assigned to bases and ships in relatively small numbers. The service is filling the requirement for more than 600 sailors on this mission by taking individual sailors and small groups from units throughout the world.

"Those sailors then are coming from commands all over the world, from shore stations in Italy to England to Japan to Guam, and ships from both coasts and both fleets," Nygard said.

"It is a large portion of the master-at-arms field," he added. "But the Navy's decided that they can commit those forces to the mission basically by taking onesies, twosies, up to five and six from different forces."

The selected sailors were sent to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., where they formed into five companies, and performed predeployment activities and started their training.

"Since we don't have companies of MAs sitting around ready to deploy, we needed to form something that fit the mission," Nygard said.

From Jacksonville, the companies went to Fort Lewis, an Army base in Washington state, for further training in detention operations.

The captain explained the sailors were trained using a "crawl, walk, run" philosophy. They first learned individual tasks they would need, then worked on putting them together into a unit mission, and finally ran through "situational training exercises," in which they practiced dealing with scenarios possible in the detention facility.

A sailor here who recently completed the training at Fort Lewis said the situational training exercise was the most interesting thing he's experienced in his year in the Navy.

"I've never experienced anything like that before," said Seaman Andrew Ellenberger. "We had two days of some very, very intense training to learn how to deal with the different stresses that we may encounter down here."

Ellenberger said the first day of the STX was frightening. "I was like, 'Oh my God, what did I sign up for?' But after I talked to a few people that had already been down here, they said that (scenario portrayed potentially the) absolute worst day down here. It probably will never happen," he said.

Nygard said the intense training was valuable "in getting the sailors into the right mindset for what they needed to come down here for."

To date, three companies of Navy guards have assumed their duties "inside the wire" at Guantanamo Bay. The two remaining companies are completing their training at Fort Lewis and preparing to deploy. Nygard said the entire provisional force will have assumed their duties here by mid-April.

He also had a message for the sailors' families and loved ones. "Your sailors are performing marvelously down here, and they're doing what the country has asked them to do," he said. "And to a man or woman, they're proud to be serving the country.

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Related Sites:
Joint Task Force Guantanamo
Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

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