News: Crime and punishment in Kuwait
Story by Sgt. Giancarlo Casem
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait -- When crimes are committed and regulations broken, the Navy personnel at the Theater Field Confinement Facility at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, stand guard so field units don't have to.
The confinement facility serves as a temporary prison for service members accused and convicted of crimes throughout the Middle East who are awaiting trial, serving their sentence or preparing to serve time in permanent facilities in the United States.
"The Theater Field Confinement Facility's mission is to be a safe incarceration facility for U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen or Marines," said Navy Commander David Wegman, commander of the facility.
Wegman said the facility provides a resource for commanders to maintain discipline and order in their units without sacrificing manpower to secure prisoners.
"People make mistakes," Wegman said. "The system is designed to take care of those people legally. Our job is to take care of them and make sure they are properly housed, fed, clothed and ready to go back to their units (or be escorted back to the United States)."
Inside the chain-link fences surrounding and dividing the compound, the service members incarcerated there live, eat and sleep in tents. The facility has the capacity to house nearly 130 prisoners in tents or eight individual segregation cells. While incarcerated, inmates maintain their uniforms but wear no rank.
"It's a pretty sobering thing to go inside the wire and see all these friendly service uniforms," Wegman said.
Wegman said his responsibility is one of the unique aspects of this war.
"I do know when you send more than 150,000 over to a war zone, give them guns and tell them to kill people, crimes are going to happen," Wegman said. "When they do, we are here to get them where they need to be on the punishment side of the house."
"Being sent here is their punishment, we are not here to punish them," said Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew McGillis, a native of Bayonne, N.J. "We have to take care of them, they are still our Soldiers and Sailors while they are here."
Soldiers receive full care and can make requests for military services while in custody at the facility. Inmates receive medical care, lawyer visits and are able to make phone calls during their 90 minute recreation time each day. They can also have their religious needs met, take care of finance problems or make inspector general complaints. Prisoners who follow the rules can have their sentences reduced through good behavior.
"The biggest thing they want when they come here is to call home, and we (let them) do that," said Petty Officer 1st Class David Eldridge, guard commander of the day shift and a native of Iron Mountain, Mich.
While their job is to take care of the prisoners, the guards must also maintain discipline and control.
"We control pretty much everything they do. Anything they want to do goes through us," Eldridge said.
Daily routines such as physical training, personal hygiene and physical labor are enforced. Inmates are required to march everywhere and are told when to bathe, eat and sleep. As part of their required labor, the inmates provide all of the sandbags for Camp Arifjan.
"As long as they act like a Soldier while they are here we will treat them as such," McGillis said. But when Soldiers lose control they are subject to lose privileges such as recreation time, phone time or good conduct time. Service members accused or convicted of certain crimes, or who are unsuitable for general population may end up in segregation cells. Until discharged from the military, prisoners are also subject to additional action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Prisoners charged with everything from minor infractions to murder and aiding the enemy have passed through the gates of the facility. Despite the nature of the prisoners they deal with, Wegman maintains poor decision making as the primary reason most people end up at his doorstep.
"Poor decision making is not a rank issue, it's a human issue," Wegman said. "When people's morals and values guide them to do a variety of different things you get a variety of different outcomes, some of which are not good. When they are not good and it gets found out, justice has to be served."
And in the facility, justice is served.