Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Their average age is 23. Most are on their first military assignment. They wake up at 0430, clean up, throw on a fresh uniform and are standing in formation at 0500. They silently file on to a bus that takes them to the camps. They get off the bus and again stand in formation as the First Sergeant barks out the orders for the day.
They move into the camps and do the requisite shift change duties. They take their posts at 0600. They then "walk the blocks," placing their eyes on their assigned detainees every three minutes for 12 hours. They walk eight to 11 miles during their shift.
At 1800 they get back on the bus, go back to their rooms and change into their exercise clothes. After a short formation, they do at least one hour of PT (physical training). They then clean up, grab a quick dinner, and fall into bed.
And so it goes, four days on, two days off.
While that may be the schedule, it does not tell the full story of a guard's day at Guantanamo Bay. To do that requires an understanding of something called the Battle Update Brief, better known as the BUB. The reason the word battle is used is because the detainees see the camps as an extension of the battlefield.
So do the guards.
The BUB is a daily briefing. It takes place in a room that is way too small, with no windows, and occasionally smells bad. There is a u-shaped table where the staff sits along the sides. At the end of the table sit the Joint Task Force Commander and Deputy Commander along with the Camp Commander and the Command Sergeant Major. One by one the cell block Navy Chiefs and Army Sergeants stand up and give a very clinical re-cap of the previous 24 hours. The detainees are referred to by number and their picture flashes on a screen as they are referenced.
What follows is a typical morning report at the BUB. Real names and real detainee numbers are not used. The term "rec" is short for recreation.
"Good morning sir, Chief Simmons Camp 6. We have 112 assigned, 112 present. Last night detainee 765 requested onions and parsley on his salad and requested to see the camp commander regarding his request. 844 wants a better detainee newsletter and 632 has requested a Bowflex machine because he says he is not getting enough of an upper body work out.
"We had 3 significant activities last night: 601 balled up feces and threw it at the guard hitting him in the chest saying next time he would hit him in the mouth. Next, as 155 was being taken to rec, he bit a guard on the arm until it bled. Detainee was not allowed rec and had comfort items removed. When asked why he did it, 155 just laughed. The guard was sent to medical where he is being evaluated. Finally, 767 yelled at female guard saying, 'I am going to rape you. I am going to rape you. And when I get out of here I am going to kill you and your family.' Sir, barring any questions, that concludes my report."
Many may believe the above BUB report is exaggerated or hyperbole. It is not. It could have just as easily been a detainee demanding a lighter gray shirt because the dark gray shirt "hurts his gall bladder." Or a detainee smearing feces on the walls of his cell. The guards refer to these detainees as "painters" or "poo-cassos."
What occurs daily inside the wire is a bizarre mixture of the dangerous, the disgusting, and the absurd. And, despite urban legends and misperceptions, any mistreatment or abuse that goes on inside the camps is that of detainee-on-guard, not the reverse.
Here is the aftermath of the BUB.
Detainee 632 did not get his Bowflex machine. The guard who was bitten is fine. We are working on the parsley and onions request, but not too hard. The feces battles never end. In fact, the latest detainee tactic is to grow their fingernails long, put feces underneath the nails and then try to scratch a guard's face.
Meanwhile, I happen to know the female guard who was verbally abused. Coincidentally we both went to Valley High in Albuquerque, N.M., albeit about 30 years apart. Still, we are both Vikings.
After the briefing, I saw this young soldier and said, "Hey Viking, I heard you had quite a night last night : are you OK?" She said, "Yes sir, I'm fine."
I looked at her with some skepticism to see if what she was saying were true. What I saw in her eyes surprised me, but shouldn't have. She really was fine. That detainee's comments did not bother her in the least.
She is more than he will ever be and she is not alone. Rest assured if the guards at GTMO are any indication, the generation that is now coming of age will do its duty; they will defend our nation with courage, honor, and integrity. So don't elevate the detainees to sainthood and don't talk to me about unprofessional behavior, mistreatment or abuse at GTMO, because, frankly, I am more than a little sick of it.