“There is no justice in the laws of Nature, no term for fairness in the equations of motion. The universe is neither evil, nor good, it simply does not care. The stars don’t care, nor the Sun, nor the sky. But they don’t have to. We care. There is light in the world, and it is us.”
Eliezer Yudkowsky (edited)
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is located in the southeastern tip of Cuba. In February 1903 the US Navy needed a fueling port in the Caribbean and agreed to lease a 45 mile land and water mass from Cuba. This lease is still in effect today for around $4500.00 annually. The rocky shoreline, surrounded by steep hills, create an enclave which adds to the Guantanamo Bay isolation. In the 1990’s Guantanamo Bay was used by the military as a processing center for asylum seekers, (primarily Haitian) and a camp for HIV positive refugees. GTMO, as Guantanamo Bay is also known, is so isolated, it has been deemed by one United States official as the “legal equivalent of outer space”.
Early in the spring of 2012, I was assigned to the last Navy battalion to serve in the capacity of detainee operations in GTMO, as this duty was being turned over to the Army. I was assigned to Camp 7, Task Force Platinum. There was a small group of us handpicked to work inside the internal confines of Camp 7. Our daily duties consisted of guarding and escorting. My specific duties will have to go undisclosed for now as I was working in a top secret billet. Being attached to a high-value camp where known terrorists are “detained” by the US Military keeps you at a heightened state of awareness in general. The detainees await Military commission trials to determine their individual levels of involvement and criminal charges relating to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC. , and the plane crash in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The men who are being detained in Guantanamo Bay are some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. We were instructed early on in our training that these combatants were to be referred to as “detainees” rather than “prisoners” due to the fact they had not yet been to trial for crimes in which they have been accused.
It was late October of 2012. I remember distinctly waiting to be informed of the pending Chief Petty Officer results which were to be released any day for our E7 promotions. This would be my third attempt, offered to qualified candidates annually. Let me give a few more details. Although you are eligible, the E7 selection process for the Navy involves a 200 question written exam, which you must pass and qualify by eligible percentiles. Then there is a selection board process comprised of a few hand selected Chief Petty Officers, Senior Chief Petty Officers and Master Chief Petty Officers with impeccable records sitting in a board room in Millington, TN. The quotas were very tight. Navy wide it was projected the Navy would promote, once again, very few candidates. However, I felt I had an “ace in the hole” as I had been summoned to Washington, DC earlier in April of 2012 where I was selected as one of five candidates for “Sailor of the Year” out of 58,000. I was quite certain and moreover, assured I was one of the few that would be chosen. The day started out as just another very hot smoldering workday. The kind of day with heat you can see vaporizing just above the dusty brown haze that covers the island. There was a constant stench in the air from the burning debris in the landfill that never stopped burning. The sea was quite calm that day as I looked out across the horizon. There was a rocky cliff just out the exit door of the mess hall, and my daily gaze across the open water was a picture I would frequently use to comfort my mind, a tool to prepare myself for the task inside the confines of camp.
One of the main topics among my coworkers and shipmates that day during chow was the pending warnings for approaching hurricane Sandy and the implications it could have on our family and friends back home. In retrospect, what we did not seem to have allotted for in our thought process that day was the implications, extent or measures involved if the storm hit the Base. It goes without saying we were expected to stay and guard our posts, only leaving when properly relieved. However, in the hours to come I would realize the extent of those orders. Standing post was about to take on an entire new meaning.
The Naval Base proper had a Hurricane contingency plan to withstand up to a Category 2 storm, the brunt of hurricane force sustained winds ranging from 96110 mph with tide surges of 6 to 8 feet above normal coming ashore. At this time were expecting a category 3 or possibly greater.
Even though GTMO is a peninsula surrounded by water on three sides, the fourth side was communist Cuba, comprised of minefields, guarded perimeter razor fencing and watch towers. To the US Military personnel assigned in GTMO, this was considered an island. Later in the afternoon, the guard staff was informed we would be taken, in shifts, back to our barracks. We would have 15 minutes to grab personal hygiene items and uniforms to sustain ourselves for at least three days. We were advised that all other personal items needed to be placed on top of lockers, or as high an area as we had access inside our huts. I grabbed what I could, stored the rest, and quickly returned to a seat on the shuttle to our posts.
The sky began to darken and clouds began to roll in. I noticed the waves on the horizon had many more whitecaps than usual. I was beginning to realize the implications of a serious storm brewing out at sea, and what might happen to this tiny landmass we now called home. Information relayed came slow and in short spurts. It was very direct, but lacking a sense of absolute awareness.
As the reality of what was about to happen began to set in, I realized no one was going to run to our rescue. There would be no one to evacuate us by helicopter or boat. We were there to guard prisoners.
Evacuating detainees, or the people guarding them, was not an option. It became more and more apparent we were in the direct path of the storm. We began counting food and water rations. Another huge task was filling and placing sandbags. Lots of them, which were filled manually from an area with far more rocks in the soil than sand. As the evening wore on and dark surrounded, there was an eerie, solemn, unspoken awareness among all the guard force. No one could know how high the water would reach or what impact the storm would have as we braced for whatever Hurricane Sandy had in store for us. At the same time, we began to unconsciously accept the fact you could possibly die staring into the face of a terrorist who seemed to have no fear of death. It seemed as if it was almost entertaining to the detainees to see uncertainty about what was happening in our faces, and our lack of control over the impending weather.
We braced and prepared for the worst. We went deep into the camp, the lights dim, the sticky hot air filled with the smell of musk, sweat and urine from banana rats. These rodent are the size of beavers and live in packs, inundating the island. Some of us read and some prayed. We searched one another’s eyes for a glimpse of something, not sure what we were looking for; fear, hope, perhaps reassurance, though no one spoke of uncertainty. Ever present was pride and military bearing. A quiet strength we pulled from one another.
As the night wore on, there were no sounds from outside. We were basically barricaded in, sleeping in shifts and rationing water and MREs. Cots were erected in all directions, with no separation of male and female quarters. Though there were more than enough cots, not many people were laying on them. The wind and rain blasted down and we had junior personnel standing watch inside our protective barrier, mopping up the water as it attempted to invade our new quarters.
After the long night, quick slivers daylight eventually broke. Though the winds had calmed, the rain was still blistering down in sheets. An external crew was assigned to go out and assess the extent of damages, water levels, and establish new safety precautions. The power was out, trees, limbs and debris had blown everywhere. We did not know yet the extent of damage to the base, or anyone else who was stationed here.
What we did know was we were not going to die today. Not this time. Not staring into the eyes of terrorists who seemed to feed on fear, death and destruction, especially when American lives are at stake. 48 hours later we were allowed to return to a normal shift pattern, contact our families, and determine how much of our personal belongings were salvageable. There were cars, boats and heavy equipment washed out to sea, trees had fallen through buildings and the marina where you could rent small fishing boats before the storm was entirely destroyed.
There was no loss of human life. After another two or three days, the chow hall reopened. The water surge had covered the steep, rocky cliffs, changing the landscape forever. Huge crevices were cut in the rock, a large portion of the ground had washed away and out to sea. However, we had made it relatively unscathed. After Hurricane Sandy, there were a few storms where we were placed on standby, but nothing like what we had gone through.
Now, years later, when hurricane season bears down on the east coast, I am evermore aware of the Caribbean area, tracking storm paths, and trying to determine how close one may get to Guantanamo Bay. For today there is a group of young Americans who, when required, will pull those big doors closed and lock them from the inside, waiting on Mother Nature to finish her wrath. These Americans will quietly, proudly and unconditionally await fate as they guard those doors against evil from within and without the barricaded confines of GTMO.