A Day at the Library

A Sailor works inside the Joint Task FOrce Guantanamo detainee library.  More than 25,000 books, movies and video games are available on request to the detainees.

Story by Spc. Kelly Gary

JTF Guantanamo Public Affairs

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (Oct 21, 2011) – Shelves lined with Agatha Christie novels, Star Wars DVDS or the latest Madden for PlayStation 3 are items typically found in most state-side libraries. These, as well as 25,000 other articles including newspapers and magazines, are part of any library’s collection. But in the case of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, a large portion of those items are in Arabic or Pashto, among 16 other languages.

Around JTF Guantanamo, there are a vast assortment of military, civilians and contractors who play an integral part in the success of the mission. One element sometimes overlooked is the detainee library. Yet since 2004, the library has steadily built a considerable offering.

“Some people look and ask why we give them, (the detainees) so much,” said Zak, JTF cultural advisor. “They have to realize how much we are doing for the guard force by keeping that detainee busy.”

Army 1st Lt. Jerome Hunt, detainee programs officer in charge, said by supplying detainees with these selections, the JTF is presenting them with something to occupy their time, which in turn makes the guard force’s job easier.

“We are here to support the camps,” Hunt said. “We provide mental stimulation for the detainees.”

Even though Hunt’s military staff said they enjoy their jobs, working in a library was not what came to mind when they initially deployed. Most of these Troopers have correctional and law enforcement backgrounds with three Soldiers trained as military police and two Sailors – a fire technician and an operations specialist. Working in the detainee camps seemed a likely possibility. Hunt was unsure when he received his assignment.

“At first it was a shock,” he said. “I am in civilian law enforcement back home. They me I was going to be running the library and I asked, ‘Are you sure you got the right person?’”

Even though it was a surprise, Hunt said he treats the mission with the same ardor as he would any other.

“I have the same motivation and the same dedication [to this mission] as if I was back in Iraq leading troops down range,” he said.

Army Staff Sgt. William Peace, a detainee programs librarian, said after four deployments he came to the island without expectations.

“I try to approach a deployment with an open mind,” said Peace. “You never know what you are going to do until you get there and you start doing it.”

The librarians’ day entails preparing, delivering, returning and once again preparing items for the camps. In addition, the team does all the paperwork surrounding the items and classes as well as all the various processes that go along with detainee requests.

The important role the detainee library and its staff play improves the quality of life for the detainees and the guard force. In addition to the items, classes such as English, computer and art are provided for the detainees. Zak said the number of incidents involving assaults upon the guard force has steadily decreased as the library, and then the classes, were implemented.

Fireman Technician 2nd Class Jorge Carpio was a camp guard himself for two months before he began working in the library. He said he saw the impact the librarians had from the other side of fence.

“When the librarians show up, it makes the detainees happy,” said Carpio. “They then have less time to focus on the guard force.”

All three men agree they want to see the library continue to grow in terms of materials and classes. Despite the different backgrounds and job titles of the Troopers, civilians and contractors of the library, they all work together to support the mission. It’s one team, one fight, said Hunt.

“In the case of the mission here,” he said, “I think our ability as [Troopers] to assess, adapt and overcome has helped us to be able to do our job.”