CAMP BUCCA, Iraq (NNS) -- The number of family member visits with detainees held at the Multinational Forces Iraq Theater Internment Facility (TIF) here has increased over the past six months by more than 50 percent.
The increase is largely credited to process improvements made by the 38 Sailors, 14 Soldiers and eight interpreters assigned to the camp visitation center.
The visitation team revamped their procedures for initially receiving visitors, redesigned forms and increased the number of interpreters and database stations to safely process more visitors daily.
"The visitation center maintains a vital link between detainees and their families to reinforce the message that there is hope for a more normal life after detention," said Capt. Lee A. Steele, forward operating base commander at Camp Bucca and an individual augmentee (IA) from the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Command in Pensacola, Fla.
More than 18,000 detainees are held in two TIFs in Iraq. In addition to guaranteed due process reviews, access to 24-hour medical care and culturally appropriate meals, the detainees are authorized to receive family visits.
The Bucca visitation center processes an average of 125 visitors each day. They screen the visitors, collect and store personal property and provide security at the site.
"When we first open the gate in the morning, we are a little nervous because we could be bringing in up to 170 local nationals and we don't know if they have any weapons until after they are searched and pass through the backscatter machine," said Senior Chief Interior Communications Electrician (SW/AW) Ira Hutchinson Jr., visitation noncommissioned officer in charge for the Navy Provisional Detainee Battalion.
Although providing security and processing the visitors through the center are the team's top priorities, the Sailors and Soldiers know that how they interact with the Iraqi visitors is also an important part of their mission.
"This war is not pleasant for either side and most aspects of detention are all negative, having the visitation center be as user friendly as possible reminds the detainees and their families that the [United States] is interested in making this country a better place," said Steele.
The team tries to treat the visitors like family, said Hutchinson, an IA from the Center for Surface Combat Systems Unit at Great Lakes.
"We provide snacks for the kids, play soccer and attempt to speak Arabic so they know we are doing our best to help them," Hutchinson said.
For the Sailors and Soldiers working at the visitation center, the duty provides them a different perspective.
"We see the other side of the Iraqi people, the family behind the detainee," said Hutchinson. "A lot of honest, hard working people arrive at our gates everyday and all they want to do is visit their family members that are being held in the TIF. The reunions that take place at the visitation center brighten everyone's day."
Some families make the journey to Camp Bucca, located in southern Iraq near the Kuwaiti border, from distant parts of the country. Their trip to Bucca could take a number of days, sometimes through dangerous areas. Hutchinson said many of the visitors are initially intimated when they arrive, so the team wants to quickly set a friendly and positive tone.
"The visitation center's team is professional, courteous, motivated and culturally sensitive," said Cmdr. Kathyrn Donovan, commanding officer of the Navy Provisional Detainee Battalion and an IA from the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Washington.
That professionalism and motivation can be seen in how the Sailors and Soldiers interact with the visitors.
"The children are really cute; some of them speak really good English and they ask all sorts of questions," said Aviation Maintenance Administrationman 3rd Class (AW) Olga Nedlin, an IA from USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). "It's sad to think of what the kids' lives may be like, but hopefully, the impression we leave on them will be a good one and they will grow up to try and help improve their country."
The Multinational Forces in Iraq use the Theater Internment Facilities to detain individuals determined to be true threats to coalition forces, Iraqi Security Forces and to the stability in Iraq.
Approximately 5,000 service members are assigned to the Iraq detainee operations mission and over the next few months, more than 2,000 additional Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen are expected to augment this force to meet mission requirements and ensure the safety and security of Multinational Forces, Iraqi Security Forces and detainees.
For more news from Task Force 134, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/tf134.