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Quarantine ends for Minnesota service members, but not concern over treatment

Members of the 34th Military Police Company ended their quarantine at Guantanamo Bay and began their duties, but it's unclear if the next group will also undergo the same quarantine.

A member of the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on April 17, 2019. A retired Minnesota National Guard colonel whose daughter recently deployed to Guantánamo Bay on her second tour is accusing the military of dangerously isolating a company of military police for 14 days to protect the base from the coronavirus. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Quarantine may have ended for the 150 members of the 34th Military Police Company who recently deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but concern over how they were treated hasn’t ended for Rochester Fire Chief Eric Kerska.

Kerska’s daughter, Staff Sgt. Mackenzie Kerska, is one of those service members. Eric Kerska first raised concerns when he learned from his daughter that the guard members were confined individually inside 9-foot-by-12-foot containerized housing. The only contact the men and women were allowed to have was through text message or video chats.

Guidance published on May 26 by the U.S. Under Secretary of Defense states that all service members deploying outside the U.S., whether to a COVID-19 operational area or not, will undergo a mandatory 14-day restriction of movement prior to deployment. Department of Defense civilian employees and contractors are strongly recommended to undergo a 14-day restriction of movement.

The concern isn’t just over the inconvenience of being isolated. Kerska said he was worried about the “complete isolation,” especially for the young service members on their first tours.

“The strength of the military is the team. The strength of the military is that the leader gets to check on their people,” said Kerska, who served three deployments in Iraq and retired as a colonel. “We're not even allowed to do this to POWs. Solitary confinement is considered no-no in many places — some places don't even allow it in their prison systems — and yet we are doing it for our own soldiers.”


Col. Simon Schaefer, Minnesota National Guard director of the Joint Staff, said in a statement that the Guard reached out to the command and a selection of members of the 34th MPs, as well as Joint Task Force Guantanamo regarding the concerns received from a soldier's family member.

“The information we received back confirmed that the unit was predominantly in good spirits and that the quarantine that was used was in fact consistent with that used for all units reporting to the task force," Schaefer said.

Kerska reached out to Rep. Jim Hagedorn and Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s offices to try to effect change for his daughter and her fellow service members.

The 150 men and women finished their 14-day quarantine without a change. But new military police units arrive roughly every 90 days to the base.

“Hopefully they'll change it for the next group,” Kerska said. “There is no way for me to know that.”

Eric Kerska mug
Eric Kerska

Eric Kerska mug
Eric Kerska

Emily Cutts is the Post Bulletin's public safety reporter. She joined the Post Bulletin in July 2018 after stints in Vermont and Western Massachusetts.
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