AL ASAD, Iraq -- Discipline can come in many forms for Marines in a combat area.
For the Detention Company Marines and sailors from 5th Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, discipline means putting aside personal feelings to safeguard and house detainees who could have recently killed or injured fellow service members.
The Detention Co. serves as a lock and key holder for detainees at a remote detention facility at Al Asad, Iraq. Many of the Marines are reservists, ranging in jobs from communications specialists and artillerymen to motor transport operators and administration clerks.
“It is something new and exciting, but at the same time it is a serious job,” said Cpl. Adam Throne, a field artillery cannoneer and Mason City, Iowa, native. “We know we’re not out here on vacation from our regular jobs. We take it very seriously.”
Detainees are held for processing, interrogation, transport or release at the facility. The Marines are trained and supervised by experienced military policemen, but most of the education happens on duty, said Sgt. Sarah Raby, a military policeman from 1st Force Service Support Group and a Chicago native.
“They were given courses on everything, but most of what they learn is on the job,” Raby said. “They have no experience in the corrections field, but they do what they’re told. I really have a good bunch, like all Marines they know how to adapt and overcome.”
As a shift noncommissioned officer, Raby is in charge of more than a dozen Marines. Their team spirit and work ethic has been positive despite taking on the difficult, Raby said.
“I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them to put everything they know how to do aside and take on a whole new role, but they’ve done an awesome job,” Raby said. “They’ve definitely come together as a team and I can’t praise them enough for that. The most important things here are working together, watching each others backs and constantly looking for ways to improve what we do.”
The detention facility is augmented by Navy medical staff who tend to the detainees. The corpsmen screen detainees for abuse and mistreatment, conduct interviews before and after interrogations and treat the detainees for any medical problems.
“The most important thing we do is document a detainee’s physical condition,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Vince DeLaOssa, a corpsman from N Battery, 5th Bn., 14th Marines, and a Whittier, Calif., native. “By keeping track of their condition, we can contradict any claims or allegations of physical abuse. Keeping a record is very important so we can show our guards are not doing anything illegal like abusing the detainees.”
DeLaOssa joined the detention company as an augment from his unit in Fallujah. While he has no background in corrections, he said there was a need for more corpsmen here and he was ready to help any way he could.
“It’s all about supporting the team,” DeLaOssa said. “The staff here was undermanned so I stepped up. Working in a place like this isn’t something I wanted to do, but I wanted to help.”
Taking breaks and letting your guard down are two huge mistakes while on duty at the RDF, Raby said. She encourages her Marines to find positive ways to wind down after long, stressful shifts.
“It’s very important the Marines relax once they get off duty,” Raby said. “This environment can be very stressful, and I want their morale up.”
Every shift meets for a debrief at the end of the day. The debrief is time for the Marines to review what went right, what went wrong and how to get better the next time, Raby said.
“I’m very open with them that there is no one perfect way to do everything,” Raby said. “If we consistently find ways to improve ourselves, our chances for success will go up. We always take time to hear complaints or suggestions or whatever else from the Marines because their mental focus has to be sharp and I don’t want them worrying about little stuff.”
Holding watch over suspected insurgents can wear on their nerves, but it also helps keep the Marines sharp, Throne said.
“There is no room for error,” Throne said. “You cannot afford to become complacent. Sometimes we’ll have detainees come in straight from a battlefield and we know why they are here. Seeing that always keeps me in the right mindset.”
The work ethic and positive attitude of the Marines has helped make the difficult mission much easier, said Staff Sgt. John Nolan, a correctional specialist serving as an advisor for the RDF staff.
“When I heard reservists were operating the facility, I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’ve never worked with them before,” Nolan, a Melville, N.Y., native said. “I was surprised to find they run like a well-oiled machine. As far as I can tell now, there is no difference in quality between the work of a reservist and an active duty Marine. They’ve been awesome and I’ve had an easy job working with them. They are all about mission accomplishment and doing whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Getting the job done, no matter what it is, and getting home safely is at the top of the Marines’ lists, said Lance Cpl. Lance Clark, a field artillery cannoneer and Des Moines, Iowa, native.
“I don’t care what my job is, I’m going to do it,” Clark said. “This is pretty different than what I’m trained for, but all that matters to me is all of us going home safe.”