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American Forces Press Service

Military Police Unit Stands Up at Guantanamo Bay

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, March 22, 2005 With the activation of a new active-duty military police battalion and company here March 21, the Army has moved into a new phase of detention operations -- one that incorporates lessons learned here and elsewhere in the war on terrorism.

“The activation of this battalion serves to demonstrate the Army’s continued commitment to provide trained and ready forces in support of the global war on terror,” said Army Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, during the activation ceremony for the 525th Military Police Battalion and 189th Military Police Company.

The units were designed as part of an Army action plan to improve detainee handling. A total of 32 such internment/resettlement units are being added to the Army’s rolls between now and 2008.

In an interview prior to the ceremony, the 525th’s commander, Army Lt. Col. Kevin Burk, explained how the focus of these new units differs from traditional military police or corrections units.

“The difference is that we’re not performing corrections here; we’re performing detention,” Burk said. “We’re not trying to rehabilitate anybody here. That’s what they do in Army corrections. Here we are merely detaining, providing for the safe custody and control of high-risk detainees.”

He said there are subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle differences in handling prisoners who had been American servicemembers, which is the mission of most Army corrections specialists, and enemy-combatant detainees.

“A military prisoner, you can communicate with him, you have a reasonable expectation that he is going to follow your orders as a guard. There is no such expectation here,” Burk said. “These guards, our MPs, must be prepared to use unarmed self-defense or interpersonal communication skills to a higher degree with these high-risk detainees than they would have to with military prisoners.

“Military prisoners generally don’t want to kill their guards,” he added. “Here they do generally want to kill the guards, and would take that opportunity if they had it.”

Hood said the detainees here are different from common criminals in that they “were terrorists, enemies of the United States of America.” At the same time, he added, officials continue to collect intelligence from the detainees here.

Burk said the detainee mission today is an evolution of traditional military police skills left over from the Cold War-era “land-battle doctrine.” In traditional doctrine, which Army officials are in the process of rewriting, MPs had four specific battlefield missions: battlefield law and order, battlefield circulation and control, area security, and enemy prisoner-of-war operations.

That last section, EPW operations, has evolved with the war on terrorism. Burk explained that MPs now have to deal with other issues, such as displaced persons and securing high-risk detainees. “It’s not so much an additional MP skill as it is an evolution of a skill set that we already were expected to perform,” he said.

The addition of active-duty MP units here also will ease the burden on reserve-component MP forces. “The reserves have been performing this mission here at Guantanamo for almost three years,” Burk said. “But after a while you get to the end of where you run out of reserve forces you can use.”

The 525th also has the added challenge of being a deployable unit. At any point, the entire unit or elements of it could be called to perform internment/resettlement operations in any theater, explained Burk’s senior enlisted adviser, Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Graves. So unit members are building a great deal of flexibility into standard operating procedures and task lists.

Graves noted the unit still is in a build-up phase, but that won’t last too much longer. “On the end-state, when we’re done and we’re stood up, we’re supposed to be able to pick everybody up and go from Point A to Point B and do high-risk detainee operations in theaters of operation,” he said. “Deploying could be in sets of squad, platoon, company, a headquarters, whatever a mission would need.

“Whether it’s during our tenure here or later on, but eventually that’s what the Army expects this unit to do as a battalion element or even down to a platoon-sized element,” added the command sergeant major, who recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan with the 25th Infantry Division.

He said his experiences there showed him why a permanent-party unit with expertise in detention operations is a valuable addition to Joint Task Force Guantanamo. “In Afghanistan, we lived through this. We built this kind of organization out of other organizations. We pulled people from different places and put them together the best we could to do this kind of mission,” Graves said. “So now, with the Army doing this, this model will already be put in place and it can be sent somewhere to do that mission.”

With the exception of Burk and Graves, soldiers assigned to the 525th MP Battalion and the attached 189th MP Company serve one-year unaccompanied tours at Guantanamo Bay.

In an interview after the ceremony, Hood said he finds it notable that many of the soldiers assigned to the new units have combat experience as military police officers in Iraq or Afghanistan. “We have some very dedicated, very experienced young soldiers that are coming to help form this battalion,” he said.

The 525th has an unusual history of activations and deactivations. The unit has been stood up three different times, all for relatively short periods: for one year in India during World War II; for four years during the Korean War, including some service in Korea; and for two years at Fort Sill, Okla., during the Vietnam era. The unit was most recently deactivated in 1968.

Speaking at today’s activation ceremony, Army Lt. Col. Gregory Hager, commander of the Joint Detention Operation Group in JTF Guantanamo, said he believes this iteration of the unit won’t be so short-lived. “If I were a betting man,” he said, “I would say that the 525th Military Police Battalion will be in active and honorable service to our nation for many years to come.”

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