News: No cowboy hat for Victory sheriff who wears plenty others
Story by Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – One would think that with all the hats a Camp Sheriff has to wear, at least one of them would be a cowboy one.
Except the only headgear 1st Sgt. Willoughby Mercer wears around Camp Victory is a patrol cap; all his other hats are tipped to the service members living on base.
"Everybody wants you when you're the man out there that can get things done," said Mercer, a native of Philadelphia. "My position facilitates a lot of the open doors for things to happen to where ... [the Mayor Cell can] run just like a city hall. In our cell, we have every branch that deals with just about everything in this area."
The mayor cell oversees the department of public works, maintenance, security and more. It's a 24-hour operation and it enables the camp to do the same.
"We are the central nervous system to what's going on on a daily basis and to me what's so gratifying is ... when I'm able to resolve an issue ... to where there's a level of satisfaction."
As the sheriff, Mercer taps into all kinds of issues to maintain good life on the base: from parking matters and living conditions to traffic violations and force protection. He also enforces safety regulations, camp policies and spreading of information. Plus he helps with Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs and activities. In fact, as a 2nd Don Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, Mercer teaches classes to Soldiers interested in learning the martial art.
His job in Iraq, though, isn't a position he finds overwhelming.
"Serving in this capacity is not anything new to me. Being a [Military policeman] for 26 years, I've dealt with clientele from all ranks, all branches [and] different organizations," said Mercer, who now lives in Aberdeen, Md.
The past 10 years, Mercer served as first sergeant in the Army Reserve. Ever since joining the Reserve, Mercer has also worked as a police officer in the civilian world. Just before deploying, he worked as a detective in Baltimore for the State Attorney's Office.
"Taking those attributes from that job and applying them over here after the years of service I've been an MP, it has helped tremendously because I have more of an open demeanor in dealing with people. Some people don't and they get short real quick ... I see myself being able to talk to anyone and anybody about anything."
Luckily, Mercer said his position as sheriff has been more like that of a firefighter than that of a law enforcer.
"You do put out those little fires before they become big fires, or you help facilitate them staying little," he said.
Such fires are not the ones that can occur in Soldiers' housing units – those he intends on preventing altogether – but rather, he tries to put out complaints by Soldiers so they don't become bigger issues: neighbors being too loud, Soldiers taking too-long showers that run out all the hot water, people parking in spots that block traffic. The list can go on and on.
And even though the chore of quelling problems can be tedious, Mercer finds satisfaction in the work.
"I take it to heart," he said. "I understand the responsibility behind it."
Furthermore, though, he understands he cannot do it all on his own.
"I don't do it myself. I'm only as good as the people that are here, and because they put forth the extra effort and I support them in everything they do here," he said of a group he barely knew before his deployment
Mercer was originally supposed to deploy with another MP company. But since the unit they were filling already had a first sergeant and commander, he didn't go. Instead, he was told he had been selected for a sergeant major position to deploy with the 2145th Garrison Support Unit, out of Nashville. Roughly 80 percent of the unit's members had been cross-leveled to fill specific positions, but immediately he felt comfortable with them.
"What was so surprising about that, after talking and congregating and getting to know one another and talk about your history and background, I realized that there [were] no egos, you know what I'm saying? People didn't jump out and say, 'Oh, I'm all this, all that.' We just started to jell together as the group."
Now this very group handles the issues of everyday life of a camp with the population of a small town. Not only that, but it's doing it well.
"The crew that I work with could probably walk in anybody's city ... [and] could function ... back in the real world," he said.
"I think we've done a [heck] of a job. We're going to continue doing it till the day we leave out here. Hopefully we leave a good footprint for our successors, to say, 'We started the ball rolling. It's your turn.' And hopefully we can battle hand-off on a good foot, that they can pick it up and just maintain because things are changing and we're part of that change."