Guantánamo

Guantánamo’s next prison commander knows the neighborhood

Rear Adm. Frank Ponds, center, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, salutes the national ensign during morning colors on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, March 19, 2013.
Rear Adm. Frank Ponds, center, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, salutes the national ensign during morning colors on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, March 19, 2013. U.S. NAVY

The Pentagon on Friday announced the appointment of the 15th commander of the prison camps at Guantánamo — an admiral with both humanitarian relief and hurricane preparation experience who has worked in the region.

Rear Adm. Fernandez L. Ponds, a native of Autaugaville, Ala., in his mid 50s, goes by Frank. He currently commands an expeditionary strike group in in San Diego.

In 2008, as a Navy captain, he ran an emergency relief mission to storm-stricken Haiti from the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge — and made a resupply stop at Guantánamo.

The Kearsarge was on a regional humanitarian relief mission called Continuing Promise that stopped in Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Colombia and Guyana, briefly prompting suspicions that the deployment was in response to planned Russian military maneuvers off Venezuela. Ponds denied it.

Earlier in his career, in 2005, he did a stint as a Naval adviser at the State Department, with a role in Pakistan earthquake relief operations, according to his official Navy biography. As a more junior officer, in 1997, he served on a destroyer that conducted maritime interdictions in the Persian Gulf to enforce United Nations sanctions against Iraq.

The Pentagon announcement didn’t say when he’d relieve Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, the current commander of the operation of more than 2,000 troops and civilians imprisoning 122 captives in a special Detention Center Zone at the 45-square-mile base in southeast Cuba.

Cozad took over in July in a job that has generally lasted a year overseeing a constantly changing, mostly Army reserve and active-duty force at the operation that President Barack Obama vowed to close in his first year in office. Congress thwarted him.

In February Ponds told a conference of students at Troy University in Alabama to be thoughtful of what they do on the Internet.

“Your legacy is a lot like what you put on the Internet, it is always out there for all to see,” Ponds said, according to a university news release. “Be mindful of what you say and do and what you leave behind for others to see and remember.”

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