JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — The only sounds heard inside the Hackney Training Complex at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland eight months ago were usually the commands given by military training instructors and the responses returned by trainees in Air Force Basic Military Training, or BMT.
There has been silence at the Recruit Housing and Training Facility since the 321st Training Squadron relocated to Airman Training Complex No. 2 November 2013.
For the next 90 – 120 plus days, however, there are new reverberations within the confines of the 215,000-square foot BMT facility. The sounds are mainly the voices of 62 Spanish-speaking case managers and of the children they are trying to assist.
The former BMT facility was turned into a temporary shelter May 18 by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. The shelter is for unaccompanied Central American minors who have been caught illegally crossing into the U.S.
At HHS’ request, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel directed U.S. Northern Command to provide a temporary facility at Lackland. U.S. Army North, USNORTHCOM’s Army component command headquartered at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, has been coordinating the Department of Defense support between HHS and Lackland.
A recent increase of Central American children trying to cross the border led the Department of Homeland Security to declare a level-four alert in mid-May. By declaring the highest alert condition for agencies handling children who cross illegally, it allowed Homeland Security officials to call on emergency resources from other government agencies.
During a June 5 tour of the shelter for local and national media given by HHS/ACF representatives, officials said 1,820 children 12 to 17 have been housed at Lackland since it opened while federal officials seek their relatives or sponsors.
Officials also said 840 children have been released to vetted Family members or sponsors through June 3. The facility can house up to 1,200 children at one time.
Staffed by Baptist Child & Family Services Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division, part of the BCFS system of health and human services non-profit organizations, children are served three meals and two snacks in the facility’s dining hall.
Also within the screened, fenced-in area are soccer areas, a basketball court, arts and crafts, basic English and math classes and religious studies. Each child at the shelter has a cot and locker, and is issued new clothes upon arrival. Laundry access for staff and children is also on site.
Ten security officers from various agencies work in shifts to keep the perimeter secure and inaccessible to unauthorized personnel.
Children receive a medical screening, vaccination and treatment for lice or scabies before arriving at Lackland. They are also re-screened upon arrival and re-treated if necessary. There are 58 medical professionals who work at the shelter, including an emergency room pediatric physician and one on call.
Paramedics are stationed at each wing in the shelter and a mobile medical unit is parked right outside the shelter. The adult staffers work 12-hour shifts and the child to adult ratio is 12-to-1.
Children released to Family members or sponsors are expected to appear at court proceedings. The court will decide whether the child stays in the U.S. or is eventually sent home.