GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA—At holiday time it is customary for soldiers deployed to remote locations around the world to receive cards from a grateful American public addressed simply to “Any Soldier.” Typically such cards are distributed throughout the units and top sergeants make certain that soldiers who may be light in the mail department or who may have a bit of holiday depression receive cards. This tradition has been in place at least since the days of World War II.
Today the tradition continues. Soldiers away from home patrolling in the freezing mountains of Afghanistan and fighting in the cold desert winds of Iraq receive the cards. Many post them on the bulletin boards, share them with companions, and put them inside helmets as they go on operations. Quite often the GIs will reply to the unsolicited seasonal cards and friendships will emerge. Occasionally these friendships will last for years.
Even in the midst of a war in which the opposition and the media desperately try to discourage American popular support for the troops and the mission, thousands of holiday greetings arrive annually in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Korea, and other stations around a troubled world.
But such is not the case at the U.S. base in Guantanamo, Cuba, where thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen toil to defend America. This station has become for the most part the forgotten or neglected theater, or the place most Americans wish would just go away.
Instead of bullets and IEDs, troopers here duck noxious “cocktails” of the fab five: feces, urine, spit, semen, and vomit—tossed into their faces. They don’t receive Purple Hearts when an enemy detainee requests a comfort item then grabs the hand of the kind guard passing it to him and breaks the trooper’s arm or wrist.
Do you want to guess who receives the Christmas and holiday greetings here in Guantanamo? The terrorist detainees who are confined here to keep them from killing you and your families. Last year alone, Guantanamo detainees received more than 14,000 cards, the vast majority from muddle-headed well-wishers and sympathizers. This year local authorities estimate the number may exceed 16,000! Some are addressed to the detainees by name or by their detainee number, available on the Pentagon website. Most are simply addressed to “Any Detainee at Guantanamo.”
Like the other 40,000 or so pieces of detainee mail that transit the post office on the base, the cards are distributed into the cells. The cards are passed out to the detainees by troopers who may themselves not have received any sort of greeting from home in a long time. Some of the troops here are wary about the way they are perceived by their friends and families at home. One officer said that “nobody in my family was in the military. None of my friends have the slightest clue of what we do here. They think I’m some kind of brutal jailor or something.”
It’s hard to blame the American public for being ignorant about real conditions here considering that their opinions are shaped in large part by politicians eager to score points against the president by trashing the soldiers at Guantanamo, or by a compliant media ready to believe and promulgate the worse without the trouble of fact-checking or balancing the story.
These troops have been called terrible names by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and by Senators Teddy Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts. On the House side, Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) and Jack Murtha (D.-Pa.) act as if the troops are the problem and not the terrorists. No wonder some reservists who have returned from tours in Guantanamo to the states are reluctant to tell their friends where they served.
“People treat me as if I’m a war criminal because I served in Guantanamo,” one young soldier told me emotionally. “Now I just don’t tell anyone where I was overseas. Maybe it’s better that way.”
No, it’s not better. Why ought our American troops have to hang their heads in shame for performing a tough, thankless job that few among us would be willing do at all and none would be able to perform as well? It’s past time that these brave men and women of all services—primarily Army and Navy, but Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force pull a share too—are able to receive the praise, admiration, pride, and gratitude that the country owes them for their effort.
Understand this cold fact: Guantanamo and its population of approximately 430 detainees from more than 25 countries is a combat front in the War for the Free World. While critics complain that America has no human intelligence sources inside the terror groups the single greatest collection of HUMINT sources are confined behind the wire at Camp Delta and surrounding camps.
Never in human history have enemy combatants been kept in conditions of safe, humane care and custody as are found here. Detainees receive quality of food, medical treatment, legal assistance, and due process better than they have ever been exposed to in their terrorist lives. They not tortured or abused, but are treated with far more kindness than any prisoner who has ever been unfortunate enough to be in their cruel clutches.
But still our gallant troopers are maligned, slandered, insulted, and spit upon. And not only by the terrorists here, but also—shamefully—by many of those at home.
Let’s turn this sad situation around. If the detainees are going to receive 16,000 pieces of holiday mail from misguided Americans, let’s make sure that our troops get 10 times that from loyal, patriotic Americans! America, you’ve been asking to do something positive in this war and here is an easy opportunity to do something to make the lonely holiday season bright for our men and women in Guantanamo.
You can send cards, letters, or gifts if you choose to “Any Trooper,” c/o COL Wade Dennis, JTF GTMO, APO AE 09360. Please do your part this Christmas season to brighten the day of a trooper assigned to Guantanamo. We need to show these great troopers that that real Americans appreciate them!