RESERVISTS ON ASSIGNMENT:
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Staff Sgt. Vincent Oliver, right, supervised members of the 305th Press Camp Headquarters, including Sgt. Christina Douglas, as they checked their equipment yesterday at Fort Shafter.
Army journalists head to ‘hotbed’
Visibility makes it a "fabulous mission," says the commander
Twenty-one Army Reserve journalists will spend a year at the terrorist detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba -- a place that their leader describes as "the hotbed of media interest."
The Pacific Army Reserve's 305th Press Camp Headquarters is expected to leave for Cuba early next month and begin the assignment at about the same time the Navy assumes responsibility for detainee operations at the 45-acre military installation.
While in Cuba, unit commander Lt. Col. Lora Tucker, 46, will not only be in charge of publishing a weekly in-house magazine and coordinating visits by national and international reporters, she also will serve as the media staff adviser for the Navy admiral who will run the facility.
"It's been a hotbed and always has been," said Tucker, who has been in the Army Reserve for 13 of the 20 years she has been in uniform.
Just last week, the White House rejected a United Nations report that detailed allegations of abuse at Guantanamo and called on the United States to close the detention camp. The report, released Thursday, said the combination of interrogation techniques, brutal force-feeding and excessive violence in transporting prisoners violated their right to physical and mental health, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Tucker, who spent four years at the Pentagon working with the head of the Army Reserve on its advertising and recruiting campaigns before taking over the 305th 18 months ago, told reporters yesterday, "My job is to get the media to the location, let them talk to subject-matter experts, and then it's up to the reporters to report what they see."
She views her unit's assignment as one of the best in the Army, not only because of its high visibility, but also because it means being in a place that is of "high sensitivity": communist-controlled Cuba.
"It's a fabulous mission for the soldiers," said Tucker.
Staff Sgt. Vincent Oliver, who was a part of the 305th's last overseas deployment to Bosnia in 2002, said "none of the controversy (surrounding the detention facility) will trickle down and affect us.
"All of those decisions are made so far above us," said Oliver, 38, who has been in uniform for 15 years.
Sgt. Christina Douglas, who will serve as a media escort, said she is looking forward to the deployment. "We've trained so long, and we're finally going to be able to practice our skills," she said.
Tucker, who spent a week in Cuba in January for orientation, said she was "amazed at the way we care about the detainees."
Referring to their dietary and health care, Tucker said they are "truly treated in a safe and humane way." She described the Guantanamo medical facility as "top of the line" and said "guards handle the detainees with respect. It made me very proud."
Tucker said one of things in the report by the U.N. Human Rights Commission that surprised her was that none of the five U.N. officials had visited Guantanamo. They canceled a visit in November because U.S. officials would not allow them to talk to the detainees.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is the only independent organization allowed to visit detainees at Guantanamo and U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.