By Petty Officer 3rd Class William Weinert, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 15, 2008 - When people think of Guantanamo Bay, often what comes to mind are camps filled with detainees and Army guards. However, another group of troops shares the detention mission of providing safe, humane care and custody with strict professionalism and high motivation. These are the guards of the Navy Expeditionary Guard Battalion. The Navy unit here is relatively new. When the detention facilities were first opened in 2002, the task of guarding the detainees was undertaken exclusively by Army personnel. After a few years and the escalation of the global war on terror, what began as an Army mission required joint-service support. To solve this problem, the Navy came here in 2005, under a new unit called the Navy Provisional Guard.
"It was stood up as the Navy tried to relieve portions of the Army guard that were here at the time," said Navy Cmdr. Jeffery Hayhurst, NEGB commander.
The Navy Provisional Guard later transformed the Guantanamo workspace in 2006, as it became a commissioned unit and changed its name to the Navy Expeditionary Guard Battalion, but its mission stayed the same.
"Our overall mission is to man, train and equip a guard force to support the Joint Detention Group and support the Task Force to provide safe, humane custody of detained enemy combatants," Hayhurst said.
To carry out this mission, the NEGB draws its strength from a diverse group of sailors who undertake a task that may not be the job or rate that they trained for.
"Right now we have about 56 percent that are rated master at arms, so they have the skill sets associated with law enforcement type duties," Hayhurst said. "The remaining 44 percent are ... straight from the fleet."
Before arriving here, all guards go through extensive training, first in Gulfport, Miss., then at Fort Lewis, Wash. They learn the skills essential to undertake the demanding work associated with guarding some of the world's most dangerous men. Upon completion of their training in Fort Lewis, they arrive at Guantanamo and complete a two-week, "right-seat, left-seat" training session with their outgoing counterparts before assuming their duties.
When searching for the right kind of sailors for this mission, the Navy looks for certain personal attributes rather than specific job or rate qualifications.
"We look for professionalism, considering the arduous duties that they will be assigned. This job takes tremendous professionalism and self control," Hayhurst said. On a day-to-day basis, the sailors of the NEGB endure 12-hour shifts, along with sweltering Caribbean temperatures and the ill tempers of unpredictable detainees.
"In my nearly 29 and a half years of service, this is the most professional organization that I've been associated with," Hayhurst said. "That includes the Joint Task Force, the Joint Detention Group and certainly the Navy Expeditionary Guard Battalion. What they do every single day, with a smile, makes me proud to be a part of them. They are tremendous sailors, doing great things, and they have made tremendous sacrifices."
(Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class William Weinert serves with Joint Task Force Guantanamo Public Affairs.)