August 25, 2009
SrA. Lopez brings smiles to Iraqi Children
© Emma Lopez 2009 all rights reserved
At the break of dawn over the hot Iraqi desert, hundreds of Iraqis line up to visit their relatives at Camp Bucca, which hold thousands of detainees.
Before sunrise, I, Senior Airman Lopez from the 586 ESFS/VISITATION
Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron (ESFS) prepare for the visitors entering the installation.
“I will show them the respect and dignity, so that the family members are able to see how I, a soldier of the U.S. Military treated the detainees.” Says, Senior Airman Lopez
While in the TIF the detainees are fed, clothed, and they are housed in a climate controlled facility.
My duties include processing visitors to see their family members, process daily interactions with the visitors and detainees that contribute to our counterinsurgency efforts and that are making a difference in support of the strategy to build a strong and stable Iraq.
“My interaction with the Iraqi people was an experience that I would not be
able to forget,” says Senior Airmen Natalie Lopez 586th ESFS member deployed from Dyess AFB, Texas.
I feel like that I had accomplished something at the end of each day.
I would like to say that I am one of many soldiers that are showing the Iraqi people a different side of the U.S. military and what we are capable of doing. We are here to help them to rebuild their country, not to harm them.
“I am one of many, United States Security Forces that took the necessary precautions to ensure that the atmosphere was pleasant around the visitation facilities”, says Senior Airmen Lopez
While the Airmen handle the procedures and their responsibilities, we also ensure that visitors are treated with the utmost respect and courtesy during their interactions.
Many of us Airman even took the time to learn Arabic.
“I tried my best with my Arabic to speak to them, and make them feel comfortable in talking to me and making sure they had a good visit,” says Senior Airman Lopez
“It made them feel comfortable; yes, I am wearing an American uniform, and very proud of it, but I can also speak their language enough to get the job done, which is a plus for me.”
As Iraqi families visiting Camp Bucca, they are processed through the visitation
center, and they are moved into waiting rooms before meeting with
their detained relatives. During these waiting periods, the energetic Iraqi
children play soccer with the Airmen or enjoy the playground; many smiles are exchanged among the Airmen and children - a universal gesture. Not only laugh and play with the children, but also we learn from one another’s culture, and learned to respect that. We also exchanged gifts. You may be familiar with the combat bracelet made from 550 cord. I would make a few and the children and I would exchange for one of their Iraqi dollars or a toy they may want to trade. It was all in fun. Sometimes I just handed them out.
“I have volunteer my spare time to freehand a drawing and painted, that of the characters “Mulan”, and “Rosie the Riveter", in the visitation area, which all the children seem to enjoy”. Why these women murals? You may be asking yourself, it’s to show women of strength, hoping by doing this will show them that they can make a difference in their country instead of following,” says Senior Airman Lopez.
Once their waiting period ends the visitors get on a bus which takes them to meet their loved ones.
The detainees are authorized two visits per month. When the two-hour
visitation begins, Iraqi families and the detainees are allowed to interact with
each other for 2 -3 hours.
The visits conclude the same way. Additionally, we do our best
to ensure the detainees are not humiliated in front of their loved ones, nor do
their family members ever see the detainees handcuffed.
The visitation program for detainees and their families allows Airmen
at Camp Bucca to promote goodwill between U.S. military and the Iraqi
people, a step forward in rebuilding Iraq.
“I feel that I am making the Iraqi people understand that the Americans
are here to help them,” says Lopez. “They know the task will eventually be
theirs to rebuild their country”.
I, as many other Airman conducting the detainee family visitation mission at
Camp Bucca with precautionary measures, but we use respect, generosity and smiles as our weapons of choice.
“I am proud to be an American” says Senior Airman Lopez.