From left, Seaman Michael Brophy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Drew Koehler and Seaman Joshua Johnson are among 22 masters-at-arms from Misawa Naval Air Facility headed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of a Navywide deployment to relieve Army military police at the island’s military detention facility.

From left, Seaman Michael Brophy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Drew Koehler and Seaman Joshua Johnson are among 22 masters-at-arms from Misawa Naval Air Facility headed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of a Navywide deployment to relieve Army military police at the island’s military detention facility. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA NAVAL AIR FACILITY, Japan — Sailors from U.S. Navy bases in mainland Japan are preparing for a deployment to one of many front lines in the global war on terrorism — thousands of miles from Afghanistan and Iraq and a short boat ride from Miami.

Commander Naval Forces Japan has been tasked to provide 35 masters-at-arms to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said Marine Corps Maj. Joe Cross, CNFJ’s regional force protection and antiterrorism officer, to work security detail at the island’s U.S. military detainee facility.

Misawa Naval Air Facility will send 22 sailors, the largest CNFJ contingent. Yokosuka Naval Base, Atsugi Naval Air Facility and Sasebo Naval Base also are contributing to the deployment.

Masters-at-arms are Navy force protection and antiterrorism specialists who assist Navy ships and commands with law enforcement and physical security duties.

The Guantanamo Bay deployment is Navywide, Cross said, adding he’s not sure of total numbers.

Navy Region Command-Europe officials said they are sending 12 people from various installations to Guantanamo Bay, spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Lisa Braun said. Nine are enlisted sailors and three are officers.

Not all of the 12 are masters-at-arms, but all the sailors have a Naval Enlisted Classification code of 9575 for correctional custody specialist ashore, spokesman Chief Petty Officer John Musser said.

“They have different rates and come from different commands, but they are a dynamic group of several enlisted (and officer) personnel from different ratings all sharing that NEC,” Musser said.

For example, one sailor is a religious program specialist in a chaplain’s office, but has NEC 9575, he said.

No departure date has been set for those traveling from Europe, and officials aren’t sure yet how long they’ll be gone, Musser said, but their mission is to provide a reprieve to soldiers who have been stationed at Guantanamo Bay for an extended period.

The sailors from Japan all are enlisted members, from E-3 to E-7, with the master-at-arms rating. Most will deploy by mid-February for six months or more, according to Cross.

“The Navy is providing masters-at-arms to form guard companies and corrections companies in support of detainee operations under the control of Commander, Joint Task Force, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” Cross said. “The companies are comprised of individual augmentees across the Navy versus ‘this unit, you go do it.’”

Corrections units are more involved in running the prison, Cross said, while guard duty entails security of the facility.

For Misawa NAF masters-at- arms, news in mid-December of the Guantanamo deployment came as a surprise.

“We’ve gone [temporary duty] before, to protect planes or down south (at mainland Japan bases) to help with air shows, but nothing this serious,” said Seaman Michael Brophy.

“I can’t wait,” said the 20-year- old from St. Petersburg, Fla. “It will be a good opportunity to go somewhere new, get some new training experience — plus it’s warm.”

Although Guantanamo is a closed base, Brophy said he’s heard there’s lots of Morale, Welfare and Recreation opportunities, but he and the others don’t know how much free time they’ll have.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Drew Koehler, also on the list to go, said that most of the other masters- at-arms from Misawa never have worked in a corrections setting.

“I think a lot of us are anticipating … what kind of conditions will we be in, who will we be working for, what kind of training will we have?” Koehler said.

The Misawa sailors say they’re mindful of the recent scrutiny of U.S. military tactics in so-called enemy combatant detention facilities such as Abu Ghraib. Last week the Army sentenced reservist Charles Graner Jr. to 10 years for his role in detainee abuse at the infamous Iraqi prison, and now the Justice and Defense departments are investigating FBI complaints of abusive military methods at Guantanamo Bay.

“For the new people coming in (to the Navy), you have to pretty much grow up pretty fast,” said Seaman Joshua Johnson, 20, of Shickshinny, Pa. “Any kid-ish acts — it’s not going to cut it down there.”

“There’s no room for error,” Brophy said.

At the same time, it’s an opportunity to “be the best example of the Navy and keep the good name of the Navy,” Koehler said.

The CNFJ sailors will receive extensive training before arriving at Guantanamo, where about 550 detainees are being held. The first stop is Navy Region Southeast at Jacksonville, Fla., where the masters-at-arms will complete paperwork and receive equipment. At Fort Lewis, Wash., the Army will provide “detainee skills training,” Cross said, adding he was unsure of the details.

The impact of the deployment to security at U.S. Navy bases in Japan will be minimal, Cross said. The 35 masters-at-arms represent 5 percent of the more than 850 active-duty personnel throughout Japan providing security at Navy installations. More than 400 Japanese master labor contract workers also help protect U.S. assets and personnel.

“It’s possible for more taskings to come down, but we don’t have any specifics right now at all,” Cross said.

Misawa is filling the bulk of the requirement because its joint partnership with Air Force security forces gives the Navy at Misawa “more flexibility with their master-at-arms manpower pool,” Cross said.

This is the first time that CNFJ has been tasked to provide personnel to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

“I think most of our security forces saw this as an opportunity to really contribute on the front lines,” he said.

Koehler said it’s a chance to “defend our country and feel like we have a major purpose” in the global war on terrorism.

Stars and Stripes reporter Sandra Jontz in Naples, Italy, contributed to this report.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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