News: Army Reserve MPs Hone their Skills in 'The Box'
Story by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell
FORT IRWIN, Calif. – As the hazy orange sun crested the misty mountains deep within the Mojave Desert, Brad A. Howard, Samantha Y. Nash and Sean P. Brown stood with a couple of other friends outside of their vehicles.
Howard, a security supervisor, Nash, a corrections officer, and Brown, a deputy sheriff, all from Michigan were far from home May 30.
After a briefing, they entered their vehicles and prepared for work. Yet, they weren't doing their civilian law enforcement jobs this day. Instead, they were carrying M-4 rifles, M-9 pistols, and wearing body armor and Kevlar helmets in armored humvees. They made their final checks in preparation to ride into a simulated combat zone in Medina Wasl to perform their other job as military policemen assigned to the Army Reserve's 303rd Military Police Company.
"Our overall mission here is as a police transition team," said Cpl. Brown, a team leader from Traverse City, Mich. "As MPs, we try to transition the police in Iraq and Afghanistan to do what we, as MPs, do successfully so we can pull out of those places."
To successfully accomplish that mission, the MPs are part of PTTs that work intimately with different local national police stations. They teach classes on proper police work and escort the local police on combat patrols through neighborhoods.
At the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., the Soldiers from 303rd MP Company. mount their vehicles to link-up with Iraqi role players at the Iraqi police station in the realistic town of Medina Wasl.
After a quick, but bumpy ride through the desert where the MPs continually scan the road for improvised explosive devices or insurgents looking to attack the convoy, they arrive at the IP station ready to instruct the Iraqis.
"I was tasked to teach this class this morning because it's right up my lane," said Brown. "As a deputy sheriff, I do police work from everything to traffic violations to criminal investigations to domestic disputes."
Brown leads the class on criminal investigation and brings in many examples that he has encountered during his career in law enforcement in Michigan.
"There have been crimes when you arrive on a scene you look for evidence," continued a thick-necked and stern-faced Brown. "Like a cigarette still burning in the ashtray or footprints out the back door or broken glass from a window where a car was parked … The stuff that I'm teaching the IPs is the same techniques that I use in my civilian job. These are the things I try to transfer over to the Army."
Outside of the small classroom where Brown is having his lesson interpreted into English by an interpreter, team leader Sgt. Nash peers around a corner gripping her M-4 rifle tightly pulling security.
"At my job as a corrections officer, I deal with a lot of liars and manipulators, so when I come here as an MP, I'm able to put my foot down and have a commanding presence," said Nash from under about 30 pounds of armor making her look like an indestructible Soldier.
"All the inmates where I work have been convicted of a felony," continued Nash, a native of Jackson, Mich. "So it helps a lot with confidence and working with the IPs as a female in my job. It's helped rid myself of the stereotypical qualities a female has like being meek, mild and timid."
The only tell-tale sign that gives Nash away to the Iraqis is her hair bun protruding from the back of her helmet as the Soldiers start a walking patrol with their IP counterparts into the city.
People dressed in native clothing hawk their wares or ask for money in Arabic trying to distract and confuse the Soldiers as they progress down the trash-littered street.
"You have to be able to read body language and you have to pick the approach you use when talking to people," said Staff Sgt. Howard, a platoon sergeant from Muskegon, Mich., about being both a security supervisor and an MP. "We give the IPs a lot of those tricks I've learned on my job."
Though these aren't really Iraqi policemen and this village isn't a town in Iraq, the Soldiers from the 303rd MP Company don't make that distinction in their training.
"This is a very good replication of over there," admitted Howard who has been deployed to Iraq and Cuba as an MP. "It's scary real … This is like my life in Iraq, but I just haven't dropped all that weight!"
"It's not exact and it will never be exact," continues Howard with a soot-covered grin. "But it's as close as you're going to get here and that's good for my younger troops."
Nash, who has also been deployed to Iraq, agreed about the benefit of this training.
"The other day, one of my Soldiers said to me that he couldn't believe how much he's learned in these few weeks," she said. "I definitely feel comfortable going over there with them now."
After returning to the IP station and saying farewell to their counterparts, the MPs mounted up to head back to base. But it was early afternoon and the day had other things in store for them.
Suddenly a call came over the radio for them to move to another Joint Security Station to escort their higher headquarters on a few more patrols back into the heart of the city.
"Without me having been overseas, this is a good way for me to gauge what it's going to be like," said Brown as he put on his already sweat-soaked gear and checked his magazine filled with blank ammunition. "They've done an awesome job at recreating a city and the people … They make it feel like a living, breathing city out here."
As the joint patrol turned a corner, women in headscarves hid their faces and giggled while the loud baying of goats caught the attention of the Soldiers. Yet, they remained vigilant enough to notice a local national spying on them from above. The Soldiers called out to each other about the man in the second-story window.
"Watch that window!" is repeated down the ranks of the patrol as each Soldier in turn raises their weapon sights toward the building.
"This prepares Soldiers ahead of time for a realistic combat experience from some of our worst days in Iraq," said Howard about the 14-day training cycle units go through that includes mass casualty exercises, indirect fire, IEDs and complex ambushes from insurgents. "This stuff is killing Soldiers downrange, so we train as we fight. We stress that as much as possible."
Some of the MPs mentioned that the explosions, the fake blood and the realism of the combat environment have triggered distinct memories from their previous deployments.
Yet, on this day everything goes to plan and nobody runs into any enemies. Finally, the dirty, sweat-stained MPs roll back inside the wire after the multiple patrols. The sun has long set before the well-worn, but well-trained MPs bed down for the night on their cots ready to face another day in "The Box."