By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 8, 2007 - A new legal complex under construction here is incorporating concepts proven in forward field environments to provide a cost-effective way to support the military commissions process. About 100 Air National Guardsmen from six states are building the first known expeditionary legal complex.
The $10 million complex will include a courtroom building and a 100-tent city that provides administrative space and living quarters for up to 500 people -- from security forces to legal teams and media -- involved in or reporting on the commissions.
A larger permanent facility was initially planned to support the proceedings, but it was scrapped in favor of the expeditionary concept that would be "quicker, cheaper and better," said Air Force Maj. Chad Warren, operations office for 474th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron, which is building the facility.
Unlike permanent structures, the expeditionary complex can be disassembled and reused elsewhere when it's no longer needed here, Warren said. "I can almost guarantee that these tents have been somewhere else in the world, and when they're finished here, they will end up somewhere else," he said.
Warren's "Red Bulls" -- a blend of Air Guardsmen from Indiana, Vermont, Ohio, Wisconsin, California and New Mexico -- started the project on an unused airfield here Sept. 11. Warren said they didn't realize the symbolism of the groundbreaking date until after the fact. Plans call for construction to be completed by Feb. 1, with the facility ready to accommodate legal proceedings by April.
Warren led reporters yesterday through the nearly completed "Camp Justice" tent city, which closely resembles forward-based Air Force facilities. "This is the same concept," Warren said. "Many of the troops in Iraq are living in these same types of bases."
Rows of "Alaskans," the latest-version Air Force modular tents, are expected to sleep up to eight people each and provide latrines, showers and laundry facilities.
The commissions building, under construction in the shadow of the old air traffic control building where commissions currently are held, will include a courtroom, detainee holding area, judges' chambers and a press box.
Many of the Air Guardsmen volunteered for this mission just a year after returning from a deployment to Iraq. Among them is Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Bellrose, a Vermont Air National Guardsman serving as chief of operations for the project.
Bellrose said there's a lot of gratification in constructing a new facility from the ground up. "Besides," he said, "I think it's the right thing to do."
Warren said there's no shortage of airmen like Bellrose who, despite current operational demands, continue to volunteer for important missions. "It's amazing, when you talk about the National Guard and reserves, how many people will volunteer," he said.