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ELC phase one nears completion

Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin Gordon, Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Obrien and Senior Airman Kevin Green construct a special cell, Dec. 27, 2007, that will be used to hold detainee witnesses during military commissions. This is one of many new features of the Expeditionary Legal Complex. JTF Guantanamo conducts safe and humane care and custody of detained enemy combatants. The JTF conducts interrogation operations to collect strategic intelligence in support of the Global War on Terror and supports law enforcement and war crimes investigations. JTF Guantanamo is committed to the safety and security of American service members and civilians working inside its detention facilities. (JTF Guantanamo photo by Army Spc. Shanita Simmons)

Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin Gordon, Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Obrien and Senior Airman Kevin Green construct a special cell, Dec. 27, 2007, that will be used to hold detainee witnesses during military commissions. This is one of many new features of the Expeditionary Legal Complex. JTF Guantanamo conducts safe and humane care and custody of detained enemy combatants. The JTF conducts interrogation operations to collect strategic intelligence in support of the Global War on Terror and supports law enforcement and war crimes investigations. JTF Guantanamo is committed to the safety and security of American service members and civilians working inside its detention facilities. (JTF Guantanamo photo by Army Spc. Shanita Simmons)

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba -- The first phase of a $10.2 million project to construct the Expeditionary Legal Complex here inches closer to completion as Air Guard civil engineers put their finishing touches on its various structures.

With a scheduled phase one completion date of Jan. 15, Air Force Lt. Col. James Starnes, commander of the 474th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron, said his Troopers will need to complete their part of the project so that government contractors can be brought in to paint, install communications equipment and eventually add furniture. As the 474th's tour comes to an end in February, Starnes said their replacement unit will begin its mission of maintaining the complex's various facilities to ensure they are properly functional.

When the 474th arrived here, Aug. 5, it was immediately tasked with erecting a tent city that would become living quarters for the 474th Airmen. During their six-month deployment, Starnes said his Troopers converted an abandoned airfield and a derelict cement foundation into a sprawling campus that includes all the amenities needed to facilitate military commissions. "We went from showing up here where the runway had waist-high grass to installing a tent city, to cleaning off the concrete, and then to erecting the complex. We started with a bare patch of land and had to construct various structures on it," said Starnes.

Once construction is completed in early Spring, the legal complex will include a number of buildings that will accommodate a courtroom as well as facilities that other essential parties can utilize during military commissions prceedings. The Expeditionary Legal Complex will also have cell blocks where detainees will be held during their hearings or trials, and a connecting, highly-secure walkway through which they will be escorted into the courtroom.

This mission is a unique one for the six Air National Guard units that combined to form a 'mega' group of civil engineers tasked with constructing the complex from start to finish. This particular mission became quite an adventure for these Troopers -- whose skill sets range from carpentry and plumbing to heavy equipment operators and mechanics -- when they arrived here with a blueprint created by a 'Red Horse' civil engineering design group in hand and an abandoned airfield to work with.

"This particular type of construction was especially rare for this unit since our mission typically involves supporting other units by maintaining structures that have already been built," said Starnes.

Starnes credits the teamwork and effort displayed by his Troopers for enabling the construction mission to run smoothly. However, one uncontrollable challenge the 474th often faced was obtaining needed supplies that were not available on the island.

"The most difficult part of the mission was to construct a complex that is located on an island since almost everything had to be brought in from the states either on the barge or by plane," said Starnes. "There were times when we had to figure out a way of getting things here either by borrowing it from someone on the island or just waiting on the stuff to get here from a supplier in the States.

Once the ceilings and floors are installed within the complexes various structures, the 474th will have completed the final step in their phase of the overall project. Despite the challenges, Starnes said he is proud of his Troopers for being able to come aboard and efficiently complete their mission by the specific target date. Starnes expressed his gratitude for the highly-skilled Troopers assigned to the Indiana Air National Guard's 122nd, the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 128th, the Vermont Air National Guard's 158th, the Ohio Air National Guard's 150th and the California Air National Guard's 163rd Prime Base Engineer Emergency Forces who stepped up to perform this mission.

"We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished. I am proud of the Troopers who left their civilian jobs and families in order to come down here and build this complex," said Starnes. "Even though this is a very essential mission that helps fight the War on Terror, the Troopers came down here to do something that they enjoy doing and that they are trained to do."

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