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by Lindsey Rowland

 

One-and-a-half months of pre-deployment training and six months of deployment have finally ended for Airman Jeff Smith, who is home from Camp Bucca, Iraq. His unit, the 15th Security Squadron based at Hickam Air Force Base, joined with the 18th Military Police Brigade and the 105th MP Brigade. Smith was one of 13 soldiers from Hawai‘i who worked at the U.S.-built Camp Bucca prison as a security guard.

Camp Bucca’s prison holds more than 6,000 Iraqi prisoners. It is a holding place for detainee’s who are waiting to be charged with crimes against humanity, mostly done during Saddam Hussein’s reign. “We transported the detainee’s from Camp Bucca to Abu Graib,” Smith explained, “Where they would go to court in Baghdad.” Most detainee’s were just waiting for their war crimes or humanity crimes to be processed. Most are Sunni Muslim, Saddam’s people. They are the minority in Iraq, but the majority of detainees in the prisons,” said Smith.

Smith’s job was no joke, as many incidents that occurred while he was at Camp Bucca made national news. One was a 600-foot tunnel dug under the detainee’s compound discovered by U.S. officials. Other smaller, connecting tunnels were found later.

According to Smith, the detainee’s used a handmade shovel constructed from a cut-down bucket fastened it to a bamboo stick that was used to hold up their tents. “You never knew what kind of weapons they had until they used them,” Smith said.

Detainees at Bucca were housed in tents while the permanent prison structure was being finished. The tents had dirt floors. They would flush the extra dirt down the toilets in order to get rid of it. Civilian workers noted that their sewer trucks were being jammed with dirt, so that was one of the signs that something wasn’t right.

“They sent one guy in to see if there were any weapons hidden inside the tunnel,” said Smith. “It was big enough for him to crawl through. The Army filled the tunnel in, but only on the inside of the prison,” he added.

Camp Bucca would make national news again when detainees escaped by crawling under the fences to get to the parts of the tunnel not yet filled in.

The Iraqi prisoners were treated pretty well according to Smith. “They had family visits twice a month and contractors brought in ethnic food for each of their meals.” As the permanent structures were completed, prisoners were able to live in barracks-style housing, 50 to a bunker. They wore yellow jumpsuits and bracelets with their picture on it. Each prisoner was assigned an Internment Serial Number by the U.S. Army. At role call, every few hours, “They would line up in numerical order, and we would make sure they were all accounted for,” Smith said.

Smith’s typical work day was from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. He switched to days the last month and a half he was in Iraq. He would have six days on and one day off. His unit’s job assignment was broken down into two parts: TIF (Theater Internment Facilities) Patrol would guard the prison and Force Protection would patrol the town around Camp Bucca. Smith was always TIF. “One night I did get to leave the prison on duty though,” he recounted. “Because an Iraqi prisoner had died from natural causes and we had to get ice to store his body so he would not smell.”

Off duty, the soldiers had MWR (Moral, Well-being, and Recreation) tents with big screen TVs, a gym, and Internet connection.

Overall, Smith was glad he went, “It was an experience I am really glad I got to have, but if I had to go back, I would want a different job,” he said.

Since he has been back, Smith has had a hard time finding housing. He has been staying in lodgings on Hickam Air Force Base until he finds a place. Smith had 14 days of R&R (Rest and Relief) before returning to work.

Smith most likely will not be able to complete his classes at HPU; the deployment has put him behind, and his job will likely take him off island before he can finish his degree on campus. He still hopes to get his degree from HPU, because he has done the majority of his college work here.

 

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