|HOME | PRESS | SPONSORSHIP | JOIN OUR TEAM ||
Staff Sgt. Vincent Borden , 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
10/27/2008 - CAMP BUCCA, Iraq (AFNS) --
In seven years and four deployments around the world, Staff Sgt. Omar Thompson has never promoted peace. Even when he was deployed three years ago working in the Theater Internment Facility where detainees in the war on terrorism are held at Camp Bucca, he never had the chance to play the part of humanitarian to them or anyone else.
That's all changed.
Here in the most unlikely of places, surrounded by walls topped and strung with coil upon coil of barbed wire leading to security checkpoints, the focus is more on watching than weaponry, and on permitting than defending. Sergeant Thompson helps oversee the visitation of Iraqi detainees and their loved ones at Camp Bucca, many of whom come from all over to visit family members they may not have seen in months.
He said he thoroughly enjoys it, if not for the change of pace in his traditional mission, then for the substance of work he now gets to do every day.
"I've never smiled as much while I'm at work as I do now," said Sergeant Thompson, a security forces member deployed to the 586th Air Expeditionary Group. "The first time I was here working in the (Theater Internment Facility), you had to be more stern, aggressive, yell and things like that. Here you're being generous and courteous to the people.
"What we do here affects out there," he said motioning to the gates, the surrounding communities, the country of Iraq, and a place far away from his hometown of Oceanside, Calif. "Here it's about peace."
"Peace" is a couple of windowless buildings far away from the gates where Sergeant Thompson works. It is a place where little girls and boys look at their fathers, brothers and family members with bright, engaging eyes and wide smiles. Where wives get an opportunity to see their husbands for a couple of hours a day and talk about life back home. It's a place where the political and judicial discussions of the detainee's lives are replaced with the sounds of fathers playing with their children, and a buzzing conversation that resonates throughout each of the buildings.
By allowing detainees to visit with their loved ones, Airmen at Camp Bucca are doing something extraordinary to promote goodwill between U.S. servicemembers and the Iraqi people. And they understand that.
"They're really appreciative of it all," said Staff Sgt. John Sieck, a 586th AEG security forces member deployed from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. "This is a positive mission that brings families together, and the detainees really look forward to being able to see their families. It's a different mission, one that I didn't expect when I arrived here, but it's enjoyable."
Sergeant Sieck said precautions are taken to instill that peaceful aura around the facilities for the nearly 400 people who visit the detainees daily. Security police, placed strategically throughout the buildings and outside of them, do not carry firearms inside the gates of visitation facility. The Iraqi military is present as well, and handle many of the procedures and responsibilities implemented by the Airmen with the idea that, eventually, they will be solely in charge of its operation.
Additionally, the two-hour visitation meetings are also divided into sections, and Airmen do their best to ensure the detainees are not humiliated in front of their loves ones.
"They aren't handcuffed in front of their families," said Airman 1st Class Donald Brown, a 586th AEG security forces member deployed from MacDill AFB, Fla.
Airman Brown explained that the sessions are broken up into periods where detainees are allowed to hug their wives and children, and times where a barrier prevents them from embracing one another.
Sergeant Sieck, a native of Greensboro, N.C, also said small friendships are developed with the children that come to visit, especially the ones they see over and over again.
Airmen working at the facility will play soccer with them while their parents wait for the detainees to be seated in the facility, and consider themselves lucky to get a win. Some of them talk about their defeat on the soccer field to children with shock and a fleeting disappointment, but they never let it get to them, laughing about the advanced skills of their opponents. Smiles are contagious here, given the nature of what happens on a daily basis and the positive way it affects everyone involved.
At Camp Bucca's detainee visitation center, everybody wins.