Troops Prepare to Build Iraqi Prisons

Ronald Paul Larson
The Easterner Online

Camp Bucca, somewhere in Southern Iraq — The 36th Engineer Group along with the 46th and 109th Engineer Battalions moved out of their camps in Kuwait on Monday and into southern Iraq. Loaded into more than half a dozen convoys totaling 400 vehicles, they left throughout the morning, beginning at 6:45 a.m. The mission of the approximately 1,000 men and women in the three units is to build a camp for Iraqi prisoners of war. The destination of the 36th Engineer Group and 46th Engineer Battalion convoys was a location about 70 miles north of the Kuwaiti border; the sight of the future war prisoner camp to be called Camp Bucca. The camp is named after a New York City firefighter who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Capt. Brian Chapuron of the 36th Engineers said the idea of naming the camp after the fallen firefighter came from Col. Ecke of the 800th Military Police Brigade, who is a reservist and a New York City firefighter.

The 800th M.P. Brigade is the unit that will guard the Iraqi prisoners of war once they arrive. They will also provide security for the engineers while they build the camp, Chapuron said.

The camp will be built on a large, flat, desolate plain and is designed to hold several thousand Iraqi prisoners. It can be expanded if necessary.

Most of the convoys arrived in the late afternoon and quickly began to set up their large command and sleep tents to get the generators online before night made their work much more difficult. As it was, many soldiers worked late into the night.

The next morning, several sleep tents had to be put up and most of them sandbagged. Filling sandbags and placing them around the bottom of the tents took most of the day.

Military personnel said the sandbags at the bottom of the tent were to keep chemical agents out. But as the day wore on, it became clear they served another, and more immediate purpose, to keep the tents from blowing away.

The day began windy and by mid-afternoon it was a sandstorm. Soldiers who were fixing and putting up tents against a gusting wind in the morning found themselves filling sandbags and placing them around the tents in a blizzard of sand and wind in the afternoon.

Everyone was drafted to fill sandbags. Majors and captains worked beside sergeants and privates kneeling in the sand, filling sandbags and tying them up. The bags were then loaded onto the front hoods of Humvees and then unloaded at the tents. By nightfall, work had stopped. The soldiers probably would have continued working under normal circumstances, but the blowing sand and darkness prevented it.

Maj. Christopher Sallese, a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War, said he didn’t experience anything this bad back then.

“We had the rain, but not the wind,” he said. He then told me that the 109th Engineers, who are camped about 60 miles away, had worse problems.

The 109th Engineers had put their tents up on pre-existing cement slabs. They could not peg their tents into the ground and some of the tents blew over. Others flooded when the cement slabs channeled water into the tents.

Sgt. Jimie Logan of Bellville, Ill., called the weather horrendous. It was “raining rocks,” he said.

When the wind slowed and it started to rain, Logan said several officers took the opportunity to take a shower in the rain.

Because there have been communication problems in this location, it appears that some of the units will move to another location, possibly farther north, while others will stay to build the camp.

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