A Day In The Life Of A Guantanamo Guard
(March 25, 2011)
|March 22, 2011 -- Often unseen, often unsung, one of the
toughest jobs in Joint Task Force Guantanamo falls to those
troopers who make up the guard force working inside the
Standing before his guards, the assistant watch
commander looks over his notes. His eyes close
and a deep sigh escapes as he shakes his head
from side to side.
“Be advised,” he calls
out in a calm voice. “All guards working on the
block - we've received word someone is getting
number two-ed today.”
knowing, a quick glance around the room will
tell you who they are. Pained expressions flash
across the faces of those working the block only
to be quickly replaced with solemn resignation.
For these troopers of the Naval Expeditionary
Guard Battalion, it's just another day working
the camps of Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
infamous number two. A mix of feces, urine and
other bodily fluids rolled into a putrid
cocktail and thrown on the guards by detainees
of the facility.
Mar. 16, 2011 -- A
sailor with the Naval Expeditionary Guard
Battalion quietly keeps an eye on detainees in
Joint Task Force Guantanamo's Camp 6 in Cuba
during one of several daily call to prayers.
“They'll wait, they're very patient,” the AWC explains.
“You'll be talking to one detainee and get involved in a
conversation with them and not be paying attention to
everything that is going on around you.”|
they strike. While the guard is preoccupied by one, another
detainee will appear and deliver the foul payload.
“I try and keep my head on a swivel,” the AWC says. “I try
and be aware of everything that is going on around me from
Sometimes the detainees miss, but
typically the fire for effect is on target. Either way, the
psychological affect is the same.
Its 5:30 in the
morning. This group of guards are just starting their day
and already the specter of a number two weighs on their
minds. The leading chief petty officer walks amongst the
group inspecting uniforms, checking haircuts, ensuring every
sailor is squared-away. The AWC finishes relaying all the
significant activities from the previous watch and the
guards head out to assume their duties.
The day begins
with breakfast. This place is like Burger King - they make
it your way, right away.
“There are some detainees
who are on a very strict diet for health reasons, and there
are some detainees who have special requests,” one of the
guards explains as he lines up carts for each of the blocks
at the facility.
“If you screw anything up, if a
detainee doesn't get exactly what he is supposed to get,
that could cause problems on the block,” he says. “We don't
want any problems on the block.”
The two guards
separating the breakfasts are experienced. They know which
detainee is where and they quickly separate the meals by
blocks. Finished, the convoy of carts makes its way to the
rotunda from which all blocks are accessed. Breakfast goes
off without a hitch but a detainee wants to talk to the AWC
about his cancelled phone call.
“He's very upset and
will only talk to the tall AWC,” the guard explaines to the
Every guard, every AWC, every watch commander
has a nickname – the stupid one, the tall one, the one who
gets things done - the detainees have devised a system
shared only with the guards who work the block.
said the stupid AWC doesn't know what he's doing, and he
wants to talk to the tall AWC,” the guard explains further.
“Tell him I'll be there in a few minutes,” the AWC
The AWC is currently caught in a flurry of
“Man,” the AWC exclaimed. “I know some
people think the AWC doesn't do a whole lot, but moving all
these detainees to their medical appointments, getting to
their classes and everything else keeps me busy.”
“That's okay though,” he says. “It makes the day go by
Each of the AWC's has a system to make sure they
know which detainee is out of their block and what block
they're supposed to go back to.
“Putting a detainee
in the wrong block is something you really don't want to
do,” explained the AWC.
After nearly half an hour of
making sure the rotunda is clear, moving detainees to a van
outside waiting to take them to an appointment, getting them
to classes and the myriad of other movements that take place
within a day, the AWC makes his way to another block. He
knocks on the door to announce his presence to the guards
inside, then asks one of the guards to step into the
“Why was his call cancelled?” the AWC asks
The guard explains the International
Committee of the Red Cross couldn't get the detainee's
family to the call location in the detainee's home country
in time to make the appointment.
The AWC notes
there's only one place in that country where these types of
phone calls can take place. If the families don't make it to
that location in time, the call doesn't go through.
“Just getting to the families and letting them know when the
call is going to take place seems to be difficult,” the AWC
says, a sigh of exasperation punctuating his words.
Nodding to the guard in understanding, the AWC slips into
the narrow passageway separating the detainee and the
guards. The detainee and the AWC engage in an animated
conversation while the AWC tries to explain the
complications of the situation. As the AWC talks to the
longhaired detainee, his eyes shift from left to right,
never stopping for more then a few seconds. The conversation
comes to a close and the AWC walks back into the rotunda.
“He wants markers,” the AWC seems to say to the heavens.
Around the rotunda, through a series of
hallways, the AWC enters the office of the operations chief
petty officer and asks about the markers.
yet,” the ops chief explained. “Don't know when they'll be
here, but they aren't here yet.”
“That's the way it
goes,” the AWC said as he walks back to the rotunda. “They
ask for it, we try to get it for them but it's never fast
The AWC goes back to the block and informs
the detainee the markers haven't arrived yet, but he
reassures the detainee they will be in soon. The detainee is
clearly not happy with the situation, but the AWC can't
really worry about his hurt feelings at the moment. Class –
Arabic to English – is about to start and he has to move
several detainees into the classroom.
the schedule, the AWC calls ahead to the guards on a block
to make sure they're ready to move the first detainee.
Peering through the window, the AWC visually confirms the
detainee is ready to be moved. After a semi-lengthy process
of moving detainees, class is ready to start. More than nine
detainees will be taking one of several classes offered at
The classes serve two purposes, the AWC
explains. Detainees learn to speak English while at the same
time, the classroom setting acts as something of a social
hour for the detainees.
“Detainees on the block don't
get to see detainees [from another block] unless it's during
class,” the AWC said. “So, especially when we moved
detainees here from other camps, some days it seemed like a
Already closing in on noon, the AWC
dispatches two guards to prepare lunch but there's a
One of the guards explains to the AWC that a
block refuses to hand over their trash from breakfast.
“What?” he responded incredulously.
give us their trash from this morning,” the guard
“Go get the watch commander and see if he
can talk to them,” the AWC orders.
anything they can do to mess up the rhythm, to throw a
wrench into the system, they will do,” the AWC said.
The watch commander goes in and talks to the residents of
the block. After a bit of back and forth, he gets them to
relinquish their trash. The war of bullets may be
transpiring on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan but
inside the walls of the detention facilities of Guantanamo
Bay is a war of minds and wills.
Outside the camp, a
guard is sitting at one of the several metal tables that
serve as abreak area. He takes a long pull from a cigarette
and slowly exhales.
“It's not too bad really,” the
young guard said. His body says he's all of 19 or so but his
eyes indicate years beyond his physical age.
are pretty reasonable, and you find ways to deal with the
stress,” the guard explains. He works out a lot on his off
time and tries to take advantage of the many recreational
aspects of life on Guantanamo Bay.
anything you can do to take your mind off being here, of
dealing with the detainees and the games they play, you do,”
Crushing out his cigarette, the guard wanders
back into the camp to try to get on one of the three
computer stations in the break room. Tomorrow a new set of
guards fresh from across the ocean will arrive for their
first day of work. Already the break room can barely handle
the needs of the current staffing level.
just not enough computers in there for all of us,” he says.
“Hopefully I'll be able to get on one and try to talk to my
family back home.” And with the words “home” the doors to
the camp unlock and the guard slides inside.
remainder of the day is reasonably quiet but the presence of
someone in an Army uniform is causing a stir amongst the
detainees in this Navy-run facility. “Who is he? Why is he
here? What is going on?” the detainees ask at every
opportunity. The AWC assures them nothing is going on,
nothing is changing, there's nothing to worry about.
Anything that disrupts the status quo and presents a new
wrinkle in the day-to-day operations of the facility, the
detainees see as a tactical shift on the part of the guards.
It's all part of the chess match that takes place here every
The AWC leaves the rotunda and heads back to the
main office. Before he can go home, he must do a shift
hand-off with the oncoming AWC. The two sailors compare
notes. The off-going AWC, making sure every significant
detail of the day is passed, unclips his duty belt and takes
the radio ear piece out of his ear.
colors is sounding in the distance and the off-going shift
stands at attention, saluting the flag. As the music fades,
the guards make their way to cars or stand at bus stops
waiting for a ride home. They joke and kid with each other
in the rough and tumble manner familiar to anyone who's ever
put on a uniform. Tonight they'll go home, they'll go to the
gym, they'll hang out and try to let the day's events slip
off of them. Tomorrow, they will do it all over again.
Article and photo by Army SSgt. Benjamin Cossel|
Task Force Guantanamo Public Affairs
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