The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


January 07, 2011

Name: Lurch
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.


...and a very happy and quiet new year to you! It must be hard to be courteous to someone who hates you and all you stand for day after day -- keep up the good work soldier and know that there is a quiet majority in america who recognize the media for what it is and pray for your safety -- and who thank you for your service!

Well said. "It never really strikes someone as a deployable hot-spot."If nothing else, I've learned that "tropical paradise" is a polite way of saying "sweltering hot-box of muggy armpit humidity." So, now you know that it is a deployable hot-spot.
You are correct that Gitmo is an unknown variable. Whether anyone likes it or not, this facility is an absolute necessity. From the number of detainees that are still there and the number who have been released and re-joined the "conflict", there is still not a resolution of status or treatment. 10 years in and we still haven't been able to come to an agreeable solution. The attitude is still "Not in my back yard".
The Western world does not understand a populace who is willing to sacrifice everything for a promised moment of glory and martyr status. We do not understand the pride of such action felt by the family. Nor do we understand the concept of tribal environments. We do not understand that this culture is a way of life that is foreign to us. We look at the world through our environmental perspective and do not understand that there are those who find our way of life offensive.
The good of the blind eye given by the media is that you and your fellow "care givers" are doing things in such a non-offensive manner that no fault can be found and a sensationalized "news story" that will garner viewer share can be exploited. From your writing, even you were unaware of the reality that exists there.
You will find that your time will be short-lived. The pleasures of home will be even sweeter when you return. Family and friends will be more appreciated. Don't ever let that slip away. It will if you don't make it part of the life you are now living. Knowing that there is a place of warmth and welcome to return to may be the greatest reward you have to look forward to.
As you are aware, watch your back. Those you are there to "protect and serve" have nothing to lose. They will use any and every means to work to their advantage. Your assignment is more dangerous that you may be aware.
As to the analogy of the Amish, the thought may seem laughable, but, the comparison of action and ideology is thought provoking.
Stay safe. Serve with honor. And, accept the appreciation of the work by you and those you serve with from one grateful and humbled American.

Yea but you're still sane, and you'll be more sharpened and tempered for going there. The Forge that is called "Gitmo" creates men there, after thier term they come back just a bit smarter and harder than when you arrived there the first time you arrived there.

Plus, I think you knew to some degree what type of duty station it was anyways. Besides, you got to go scuba diving and such as well. Yea Yea, the personal life and being dragged away for 1 yr, to me that tests your mettle mentally and as spirtually in some cases, I think you've become a bit better for it. Just a bit longer "old friend" just a little bit longer, but not bu much.

Thank you, sailor! Some of us know exactly what you're going through, as if YOU were locked up in a very small place, with little variety and stimulation in your life and your diet. You might consider it a double sea deployment without port calls. Take advantage of what there is on the base, read a book or take a course or do the MWR stuff. The water sports and athletic offerings are a bonus that you couldn't enjoy if you were afloat or up front in the sandbox. Don't feed the iguanas and don't step in what the banana rats left!

I gotta admit that I didnt know much about GITMO. All i knew was from what i heard about the scandals there in recent years. I am very happy to hear otherwise from a dedicated soldier who is there right now. We definitely do not seem to hear much on the news about anything unless it is something that can be sensationalized and shocking for the viewers. And unfortunately some people thrive on watching and reading about controversy. But Please know that there are plenty of us here at home that are praying for you and i ask God to get you home to your family safely and soon. I think the majority know to not always believe what we see on the news, we know the best way to get information is from those who are living it.

You would be correct that everything I hear about GITMO is negative, or one could say everything you hear on the news today is negative. It is nice to read something from someone who is actually there on duty for a year. I have many military friends and I have asked them about it, but they have never been and just go by what they hear. Hopefully you get home soon and do not have to spend another full year away from home. Happy New Year

Thank you Lurch for writing this blog about Guantanamo Bay. I really enjoyed reading it. It's good to hear about it, for once, from a soldiers perspective. All we hear on the news is the negative about "the treatment" of prisoners there and making sure that they get a "fair" trial. I believe whole heartedly that these people are terrorists and not citizens of the United States therefore deserving NO rights or civil liberties. The job that you do there is very necessary and oh so important. Reading you blog brought your role to light to me and just how unpleasant it may be. So, thank you, for filling this role. God bless you and your family supporting you.

A very HAPPY NEW YEAR to you as well!!! I hope you do get your resolution fulfilled even though it may be a long shot. I really enjoyed your article it gave a completely different aspect about GITMO. As stated in one of the posts above it is obvious that almost everything on the news today is negative!! I commend you for your efforts to stay courteous and calm to the people their even though I can imagine the control that takes. I hope you have a wonderful year and can make it home soon!!!

I wanted to tell you I appreciate you and all you do. If its any consolation I get bored all the time. I realize I have more freedom than you, and I am sorry about that as well. Just stay strong as you appear to be anyway. You have my prayers.

I can see your point of view. I know what it is like being deployed, I was deployed to Saudi Arabia for six months. The deployments were much shorter then. Since the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and terrorism took effect most deployments now are well over a year. While I was there, I was supporting a Patriot Battalion. My battery was assigned to be their ground support. This way they could be left to do their jobs, shoot down enemy scuds and aircraft. My unit worked day on day off, 24 hour shifts. We had a lot of time on our hands to think of family and friends that we left back home. On our days off we would do whatever we could find to do. Usually going to the gym and work out for hours at a time just to fight off the boredom. There were a lot of guys that would try to find things to do. There were quite a few soldiers that got in trouble from just shear boredom. After I got back from the deployment I changed over to military corrections. The detainees had so many more rights inside the jail than they did in their own country. Many of the soldiers that I know that were stationed there would tell me many stories about the detainees. There were numerous international journalists, Red Cross and many other agencies to make sure that the detainees are not abused. Even though all of these people were there to watch for improper treatment by the US troops, I still heard a lot of soldiers say the detainees, if given the opportunity would try to kill you. There was still a bounty on US service members heads. If they killed a US service member then the terrorist’s family was given up to a million dollars.

As for the danger, you’re also correct in that there is not the worry for your safety that other military members families have. However that doesn’t change the fact that every day you are still away from your family and loved ones. And everyday when you go to work, you are certain you will face the enemy since your job is to protect them at this point. As for the cigar, if you ever manage to get your hands on one, find some shade, have a seat and enjoy.

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