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Rochester National Guardsman faces extreme isolation in Guantanamo Bay

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Eric Kerska and his daughter Mackenzie share something special -- the love of serving the United States.

"I asked her why she's wanted to become a soldier and she said she wanted to do something for society, for the rest of us. She wanted to serve. I am proud of that lady," Kerska said.

Right now though, he's worried for his soldier.

"I've never heard of such a thing in my 37 years being associated with the U.S military. This is an abnormality that must be fixed immediately," Kerska said.

Mackenzie and her fellow soldiers of the 34th Military Police company are currently deployed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Kerska is worried about the treatment of these 150 soldiers.

"They have them in individual isolation for COVID for 14 days," Kerska said. "If you look up the definition of solitary confinement; they are essentially in solitary confinement."

"The only human contact these 150 soldiers have for 14 continuous days is by electronic means," he added. "FaceTime or whatever. They get a knock on the door at 7 in the morning and someone takes their temperature. Leaves them substandard food on the step and they have to stay inside these rooms."

Kerska says the soldiers are now on day 5 of isolation.

"There are states that don't even do it to prisoners," Kerska said. "And we are doing this to U.S. soldiers? Unacceptable." 

Before leaving the state, the soldiers quarantined together as a unit for two weeks.

"The CDC precautions have already been taken," Kerska said. "They've already completed the Secretary of Defense guidelines for deploying soldiers. They doubled it and on top of doubling it, it they are isolated."

Mackenzie's unit was the first to hit the ground following unrest in Minneapolis.

"90 soldiers going up against what they found there," Kerska said.

Kerska believes it's not right. While he worries for his daughter's safety and mental health, his real worry is the young soldiers entering into the military for the first time.

It's been 48 hours since he sent a letter to the Minnesota National Guard, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Congressman Jim Hagedorn. He has yet to receive a response.

KTTC reached out to the Minnesota National Guard for a response. In a statement from Adjutant General Minnesota National Guard Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke says "The Minnesota National Guard has received reports of what has been described as stringent quarantine measures being used at Guantanamo Bay Cuba effecting the recently deployed 34th Military Police.  We are in the process of vetting these complaints for validity with the unit in Cuba, and the higher level command authority there.  Our service members are the heart of our organization, their care and treatment is vitally important to our continued success. "    

Kerska believes the issue stemmed from poor leadership and a misunderstanding of regulations.

"I believe this is wrong, I believe it's illegal and certainly immoral," he said.

He urges others to call on state lawmakers. While he believes the issue will be resolved by the guard, he isn't confident it will be in a timely manor; where it will impact the soldiers directly involved in the quarantine now. Kerska says it will take one call from someone in authority to the pentagon to fix the issue today.

"We need the public to inundate Amy Klobuchar's inbox to get this fixed rapidly," Kerska said.

That way, his soldier can get back to what she does best.

"She's a leader," Kerska said. "She's got 12 soldiers she's responsible for and a true leader when they are handed the responsibility and welfare of humans. They do what leaders do and they check on them. They look them in the eye and say how you doing. She's not able to do that, she's being denied the ability to keep her soldiers safe."

Beret Leone

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