FORT DRUM, New York — Soldiers push deep into enemy lines, collecting enemy prisoners of war as they go. The military police detain them and provide security over them, but where are they housed? It is our responsibility to feed them, give them water and provide shelter, as per the Geneva Convention. While the MP’s can handle those first two duties on their own, building somewhere prisoners can stay…that’s a job for engineers from the 248th Engineer Company (Combat Support Company).
The 248th, based out of Norwich, Connecticut, is responsible for horizontal and vertical construction. In wartime, these engineers normally use their machinery to remodel the terrain to create fighting positions for protecting soldiers and their vehicles. Likewise, they also construct fortifications or other structures, like guard towers on Forward Operating Bases. However, for this annual training, they constructed a building they had never built before.
The building, known officially as a Detainee Holding Area, or DHA, is a structure designed to provide shelter and humane living conditions for enemy prisoners of war. These facilities are typically found behind the front line, and must conform to standards laid out in the Geneva Convention. DHA’s serve as a temporary stop for prisoners prior to being moved to a more secure, permanent, holding facility.
“It’s supposed to be able to hold five to ten prisoners in a field environment, keep them safe, keep them out of harm’s way,” explained Capt. Nathan Caso, commander of the 248th Engineer Company. “Having electricity, running water, those are some basic necessities for living in a prison environment [that enemy prisoners of war] are going to be in for some amount of time [until they can be safely transported to a more secure facility outside of the area of operations].”
Constructing this facility, however, started long before the 248th arrived at Fort Drum.
“This originated as a collaboration of efforts between [the 192nd Engineer Battalion and 192nd Military Police Battalion] under the [143rd Regional Support Group’s] supervision,” said Caso.
The units worked together to develop a construction plan that kept material costs low while still meeting the necessary legal requirements for this type of structure. Additionally, the plan also called for the facility to be modular, making it easy to transport, assemble and disassemble. An ideal design for a force that is expected to be mobile and at a moment’s notice may need to change location. Once the plan was finalized and the materials were purchased, engineers from both the 192nd Engineer Battalion and 192nd Military Police Battalion came together and began construction.
“Our fourth platoon, in combination with the MPs vertical construction section, prefabricated most of this in Connecticut, in Norwich, right in our armory,” said Caso. “So all we had to do when we got on the ground was assemble it.”
The job to get the prefabricated sections to Fort Drum fell on the 1048th Medium Transportation Company, who provided a flatbed truck to move it to the training area. Once there, the engineers assembled the prefabricated sections and began construction on the rest of the facility, including adding electricity and plumbing, to accommodate running water.
“They love it out here,” said Caso. “This is exactly what they signed up to do. It is amazing to get them out and actually do that. It’s been great seeing the progress they made throughout the year. We’ve been struggling a few years now to have a consistent source of training. It almost always requires material and that’s hard to get if you don’t have a justification to buy the materials. So, this is an awesome justification for that, that gets them exactly what they need, gets them doing their MOS, which is what they want to do, so they’re ecstatic to be doing this.”
Once complete, the DHA was then manned by soldiers from the 192nd Military Police Battalion, who utilized the facility to secure simulated detainees captured during their training, some of which were soldiers from the 248th, who filled in as simulated prisoners of war for the exercise. After operations ceased, the engineers disassembled the facility to take it back down to Connecticut, where it will be rebuilt on one the local military reservations for further training operations.
“So this building is going to continue to be a training aid for MPs down the road. It’s most likely going to get put up at Stones Ranch Military Reservation, [at] one of the [Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain] sites, so the MPs can use it again,” explained Caso. “Probably going to have some lumber loss, but we’ll be able to reconstitute it and use it again. We’re also going to switch from nail construction to screw construction so that it’s [easy to disassemble] and we can potentially take it out to other places and reassemble it.”