January 07, 2011
Stationed in: GITMO
Parent command: 106 out of NAS Oceana, VA Beach
I suppose I can say Happy New Year, and perhaps follow it up with a resolution, as is the custom?
My resolution is to never go on a year-long deployment again if I can help it. I know, I know, not likely to happen, but I spent my holiday period being bored stiff. Greetings from Guantanamo Bay Cuba, an oft-overlooked aspect of the Global War On Terror.
I'll admit, I was kinda surprised when I found out that the Navy had started drafting Individual Augmentee orders for this place. It never really strikes someone as a deployable hot-spot. Then again, it strikes me that some folks even forget that there is a pre-existing Naval Base that's been here since the forties. They called, I went, and I find myself with a entirely different perspective. Quite different actually. On the very nature of where I am, for starters.
"What is Guantanamo Bay? They deploy people there?" With family and friends these question show up a lot. Apparently, to most people, "Gitmo" is an ambiguous concept. A sorta prison/detention/camp/whatever thing somewhere on Cuba. Well, unless, of course, you're a far-leaning activist of any sort, in which case I'm stationed in an unholy doomsday land of atrocious horrors. Media doesn't help either. More often than not, GITMO gets passed over for bigger news, and if anything is mentioned at all, it's accompanied by ten-year-old photographs from Camp X-Ray, which has long since been closed down.
Only a rare few have begun to come around to the fact this place serves a decidedly unique purpose. At least from what I've seen. People will conjure up arguments of "prisoner of war," say it's unjust, against "insert-brand-X-supposed-international-regulation-here." But take a closer look.
WWII reinforced a basic template: guys on one side, guys on another, they commence to shooting and the last man standing wins. Armed forces fought under the authority of their respective countries, and soldiers, if captured, were treated with such in mind. Our jolly terrorists have changed all that. There is no single openly-known host country conscripting everyone and paying them. Just a self-sufficient group with extreme ideologies using violence and terror to spread their message. (Suppose the Amish decided to one day stand up and use bomb-laden carts to convince us all we needed to be just like them. It would be roughly the same.) Hence the term "terrorist." And hence they don't qualify for POW status.
And yet, since we're America, we still care about treating people properly. So in accordance with Geneva Convention laws and basic human needs, we have to put the guys we take off the battlefield somewhere. Somewhere where they can have a decent standard of living while being kept from returning to the fight. That somewhere is here.
It's a new development in history -- a detention facility unlike any other ever made. Filling a role that, between you and me, I would prefer was not needed.
As for our role, sure, this is not the most arduous or dangerous of duties. I don't see combat, I don't worry about incoming mortars or lengthy patrols. Instead, I face the daily aspect of working with a bunch of fellows, who, for better or worse, don't exactly take kindly to the Western way of thinking. And therein lies the explanation of why I'm sitting here ticking away at my keyboard, as a chance to quietly vent frustration. Talk to people in the civilian world and they don't notice or care about this place, or they are severely misinformed. Talk to anyone I work alongside, and you see joint troops who have come together to professionally work in a decidedly hostile environment.
It gets bantered about in shtick, but that whole Core Value thing strikes home here. Working away from families, friends and spouses, at a detention facility with guys who don't like you and have been here longer than you -- all while under International scrutiny for a hint of anything perceived as less than standard. It impresses me to see the attitudes my colleagues maintain in the face of it all.
The base, for all its highlights, can only do so much to help us cope. The activity list is short, and when one is here for a year or so it can quickly be used up. Then boredom sets in. So I sit, reflecting on the finer points of a very nice area that manifests as a conceptual notion to most everyone else. And feel a rising desire to punch the TV anytime I see a report on GITMO presented to the rest of the world.
If nothing else, I've learned that "tropical paradise" is a polite way of saying "sweltering hot-box of muggy armpit humidity." That, and -- sorry folks -- I still can't get you an authentic Cuban cigar.
Happy New Year everyone, wherever you are.