First phase of legal complex nears completion
by Army Spc. Shanita Simmons
JTF Guantanamo Public Affairs
With a scheduled phase one completion date of Jan. 15, Lt. Col. James Starnes, commander of the 474th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, said his Airmen will need to complete their part of the project so that government contractors can be brought in to paint, install communications equipment and eventually add furniture. As the unit's tour comes to an end in February, Colonel Starnes said their replacement unit will begin its mission of maintaining the complex's various facilities to ensure they are properly functional.
When the unit arrived here, Aug. 5, it was immediately tasked with erecting a tent city that would become living quarters for the 474th ECES Airmen. During their six-month deployment, Colonel Starnes said his Airmen converted an abandoned airfield and a derelict cement foundation into a sprawling campus that includes all the amenities needed to facilitate military commissions. "We went from showing up here where the runway had waist-high grass to installing a tent city, to cleaning off the concrete, and then to erecting the complex. We started with a bare patch of land and had to construct various structures on it," said Colonel Starnes.
Once construction is completed in early Spring, the legal complex will include a number of buildings that will accommodate a courtroom as well as facilities that other essential parties can utilize during military commissions prceedings. The expeditionary legal complex will also have cell blocks where detainees will be held during their hearings or trials, and a connecting, highly-secure walkway through which they will be escorted into the courtroom.
This mission is a unique one for the six Air National Guard units that combined to form a 'mega' group of civil engineers tasked with constructing the complex from start to finish. This particular mission became quite an adventure for these Airmen -- whose skill sets range from carpentry and plumbing to heavy equipment operators and mechanics -- when they arrived here with a blueprint created by a 'Red Horse' civil engineering design group in hand and an abandoned airfield to work with.
"This particular type of construction was especially rare for this unit since our mission
typically involves supporting other units by maintaining structures that have already been built," said Colonel Starnes.
Starnes credits the teamwork and effort displayed by his Airmen for enabling the construction mission to run smoothly. However, one uncontrollable challenge the 474th ECES often faced was obtaining needed supplies that were not available on the island.
"The most difficult part of the mission was to construct a complex that is located on an
island since almost everything had to be brought in from the states either on the barge or by plane," said Colonel Starnes. "There were times when we had to figure out a way of getting things here either by borrowing it from someone on the island or just waiting on the stuff to get here from a supplier in the states."
Once the ceilings and floors are installed within the complexes various structures, the
474th ECES will have completed the final step in their phase of the overall project. Despite the challenges, Colonel Starnes said he is proud of his Airmen for being able to come aboard and efficiently complete their mission by the specific target date. Colonel Starnes expressed his gratitude for the highly-skilled Airmen assigned to the Indiana Air National Guard's 122nd, the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 128th, the Vermont Air National Guard's 158th, the Ohio Air National Guard's 150th and the California Air National Guard's 163rd Prime Base Engineer Emergency Forces who stepped up to perform this mission.
"We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished. I am proud of the Airmen who left their civilian jobs and families in order to come down here and build this complex," said Colonel Starnes. "Even though this is a very essential mission that helps fight the war on terrorrism, the Airmen came down here to do something that they enjoy doing and that they are trained to do."
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