Defenders perform unique OIF mission

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jason McCree
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs

Editor's Note: Capt. Jason McCree is deployed from the 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs office

While the spiraled rows of concertina wire, countless watch towers, and endless miles of fencing resemble that of detention facilities throughout the world, for the 600-plus Airmen deployed to the Theater Internment Facility at Camp Bucca, Iraq, the mission is unlike anything they've ever done.

The facility, nestled in the Southeast corner of Iraq, appears much the same from the outside as any other detention facility; however, inside it is much different -- its guard force, a joint team comprised of Soldiers, Sailors, Iraqi Correctional Officers and Airmen, as well as the detainee population, sets it apart from most facilities of this kind.

Charged with the safe and humane treatment of detainees determined to be a security threat against Iraqi citizens and/or coalition forces, Airmen assigned to the 886th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron support the Army's 300th Military Police Brigade.

While the Army maintains the facility's command and control, it takes a joint effort to carry out detainee operations.

"The Army tells me what is needed, and we assign the Airmen to the various positions throughout the TIF," said Lt. Col. Dale Miller, 886th ESFS commander, deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif. "There are clear communication channels between [our sister services]; the brigade's motto of 'One Team, One Fight, Total Victory' is a reality here."

Senior Master Sgt. Steven Diamond, 886th ESFS operations superintendent, agrees that the team philosophy is critical at the TIF.

"This is truly a joint environment," said Sergeant Diamond. "We share best practices with our Army and Navy brethren because it's all about one team."

The mission at Camp Bucca is to send the detainees home, transformed through their personal encounters with the Iraqi and American military guard force. It is left to this guard force to see this mission through while ensuring the safety and security of those detained and those who guard them.

Airmen shoulder much of this responsibility as they manage several compounds throughout the TIF, organizing the guard force for one of the TIF's detainee educational programs, and operate a hefty visitation program. In turn, this translates into significant Operation Iraqi Freedom impacts, including saved lives.

The Dar al Hikmah, Arabic for "House of Wisdom," is an education program at the TIF offering volunteering detainees an Iraqi government certified elementary-level education, religious discussion facilitated by local religious leaders, arts and crafts taught by professional artists, and Iraqi civics classes.

"I have heard the detainees say great things about the classes; they seem to really enjoy school here," said Airman 1st Class Enriquez Franz, deployed from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., who is a TIF guard force member in the education facility. "I work directly with the detainees every day, and I've noticed how much their English has improved after they graduate."

With an approximate 40-percent illiteracy rate among detainees within the facility, this is a great program, said Capt. Justin Secrest, deployed from Vogelweh Military Complex, Germany. Through the detainees' education advancements, one can see that something good came from their time here.

"The education opportunities here are far reaching," said Captain Secrest, who supervises the all-Airman guard force overseeing the facility housing in the Dar al Hikmah. "Education here is important in that it gives the detainees the chance to be productive citizens when they leave the facility and return to Iraqi society."

Additionally, many Airmen from the 886th ESFS operate the TIF's vigorous visitation program. With more than 1,700 friends and family members visiting the detainees each week, it is important for all Airmen to provide a positive first impression.

"Our Airmen provide the first impressions of Americans here [in Iraq]; we are also the first impressions of how their loved ones are treated while in the facility," said Colonel Miller, commander of the largest Air Force squadron in theater. "It is important that we provide a good first impression -- this will help to facilitate reconciliation."

At the visitors' center, one could potentially see three generations of Iraqis in a positive environment, said Sergeant Diamond. The long-term result could pave the road away from terrorism and toward a better Iraq for generations to come; it is one of the best links toward true reconciliation.

"Those who serve here detain and treat every detainee with the dignity they deserve," said Sergeant Diamond. "We work to do this to the point that they are no longer a threat to coalition forces or Iraqi citizens."

The Airmen assigned here have performed well in their unique mission supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I am ecstatic at the overall performance of this unit; we're doing something that's cutting-edge in OIF," said Colonel Miller. "We are at the point of the sword of the counter insurgency; the work we do here influences perceptions of the American presence. This causes a ripple effect throughout the country, which supports Iraqi citizens and coalition forces who are out in the Iraqi communities."