Some of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s top cops are heading to Afghanistan to manage detainees in U.S. custody at a 10-year-old NATO prison.
The 120 soldiers in the 42nd Military Police Brigade’s headquarters company mainly will manage a large prison at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul for the next nine months. They’ll join other Lewis-McChord military police officers who already serve there.
The Bagram confinement center opened in 2002 and came under scrutiny early in the war when reports of two detainee deaths surfaced. Since then, the Defense Department has rebuilt the main prison and sought to change its image.
Leaders in the Lewis-McChord headquarters company wouldn’t say how many detainees are in the prison, but reports place the number around 2,000. The American Civil Liberties Union in January 2010 obtained records that showed at least 645 detainees there as of September 2009. The ACLU is pressing for more information about the detainees.
Col. Robert Taradash, commander of the Lewis-McChord brigade, said his soldiers will take the lead on detainee operations at an important moment as U.S. forces proceed with plans to reduce their footprint in Afghanistan. The soldiers are expected to collaborate with an Afghan military police brigade.
“All together, we’re going to help further a cause,” Taradash said Wednesday. “That’s a great challenge.”
The 42nd Military Police Brigade has deployed to Iraq twice, and its subordinate units have served overseas in smaller numbers since 2004. When on home soil, the brigade manages the military prison at Lewis-McChord and coordinates emergency services planning.
Command Sgt. Maj. Dawn Rippelmeyer, the brigade’s top noncommissioned officer, said military police at Bagram will be expected to uphold a professional demeanor. She said detainees see their guards every day and are known to try to rile them up.
Rippelmeyer served at Bagram in 2005, and she has deployed to Iraq.
“It can be a little like ‘Groundhog Day’” for soldiers, she said, referring to the repetitive nature of working in a foreign prison every day.
“Our soldiers have to always be professional, apply standards and realize they have processes to follow,” she said.
Lewis-McChord now has at least 4,700 soldiers and 260 airmen deployed in Afghanistan with the bulk of local soldiers serving in Zabul and Kandahar provinces with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton @thenewstribune.com