Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bucca units move detainees outside the wire

Spc. Andrew Alexander, Fond du Lac, scans the roads from the gunner's turret of a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle. Army photos by Spc. Tyler Lasure.

A little more information has trickled out about the changing missions of some Wisconsin National Guard soldiers who were deployed to run detention camps at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.

The State Journal first reported on July 29 that some units were transporting detainees out of the Bucca detention centers, which are scheduled to be closed soon. During a press conference, Col. Steven Bensend, top commander of 3,300 Wisconsin National Guard soldiers in Iraq, downplayed the hazards of the missions, noting that personnel in bases also face threats, for example from explosives fired from a distance. Bensend also said insurgents attack larger-scale targets more often than transport operations.

After the press conference a National Guard spokesman said Bensend would not elaborate on the missions. Yesterday, the Army distributed a press release about the operations, which are being undertaken by Janesville's Company A, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, and Fond du Lac's Company C, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry.

When the detainees are finally loaded onto buses at the end of the day, Charlie Company takes charge. The desert sun is already setting when soldiers perform the last pre-combat checks on their Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles. They shovel down a meal, load their weapons and roll out. It is going to be a long night, and everything needs to go right.

Charlie Company provides security for the convoy from Bucca to a military flight line. Attacks on the convoy aren't the only thing these soldiers need to prepare for; should a disturbance occur on a busload of detainees, the soldiers would be required to restore order.

Camp Bucca, once the largest detainee facility in the world, is being emptied and converted to other uses. Under an agreement with Iraq, the U.S. military is relinquishing control of thousands of detainees. Detainees typically are taken to Camp Cropper, the central booking facility for U.S. military detainees, for release or transfer to Iraqi custody, the Army has said.