News: Task Force Military Police finds strength through differences
Story by Cpl. Jo Jones
AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq — In September 2008, the artillerymen of the Hawaii-based 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, deployed to Iraq's Al Anbar province. Unlike in other deployments, however, the artillerymen left behind their 155mm howitzers and instead donned the arm bands of military policemen.
Designated Task Force Military Police, the battalion fulfilled security responsibilities throughout the Multi National Force - West area of operations, and what made this deployment unique was not only the mission, but those who filled out the task force's ranks.
While Marines like Cpl. James Patton, a radio operator with the 1st Bn., 12th Marines, formed the core of the unit, they would not have been successful without 'reinforcements' drawn from across the globe. Cpl. Robert Dickman was a reserve infantryman studying business at Montana State University when he got the call to active duty, and Navy corpsman Petty Officer 3rd Class Edward Agdeppa was working at Navy Medical Center San Diego when he was attached to the 1st Bn., 12th Marines.
Before deploying to Iraq, the Marines and sailors completed the rigorous pre-deployment training program that all war-bound units must complete, but with an added month of military police training during Exercise Cajun Viper in Fort Polk, La. There, the men of the unit earned their vehicle licenses, practiced shooting and maintaining crew-served weapons, and managed mock regional detention centers. Since arriving in Iraq in September 2008, the unit has executed their military police duties and more.
"Our mission involves conducting convoy security missions and managing regional detention facilities," said 1st Lt. Richard F. Busch, a platoon commander with TFMP.
Headquartered aboard Al Asad Air Base, TFMP Marines and sailors are often on the road escorting military and contractor convoys, and occasionally, moving detainees. According to Busch, TFMP has conducted nearly 40 convoys since beginning their seven-month deployment, with their most recent being a detainee release mission, April 7.
Dickman, a seven-ton truck vehicle commander and squad leader with TFMP, said the majority of convoy missions are conducted at night to avoid blocking the roads and inconveniencing the Iraqi people. When the unit convoys during the day they try to abide by the "share the road" policy, which Dickman said presents a positive image of Americans to the Iraqi people.
Patton is a sergeant of the guard with TFMP's guard force, and said experiences like learning Arabic and handling detainees have changed his ideology on Operation Iraqi Freedom, and he is grateful for the opportunities to do things he wouldn't normally do in Japan.
"I have had the opportunity to go to a foreign country and help out," said Patton, who is on his first deployment and relishes the opportunity to participate in missions like the detainee releases. "I can help change the Iraqis' perspectives on Americans, and let them know we are not here to take over, but here to help."
As the service members of TFMP approach the end of their deployment, Sgt. Joseph Fowler said he can see how the service members' individual mindsets have developed into a single, unified focus over the past 10 months.
Fowler, another reservist who balances dual roles as an infantry Marine and a mechanical engineering student at Montana State University, said the differences within the unit — everything from ages and military occupational specialties to active and reserve statuses — were like puzzle pieces. As each service member learned what their respective responsibilities were, they eventually fit together to form one picture.
"The [service members] understand their roles and are stepping up in a huge way to accomplish the mission," said Fowler. "They see how their actions are helping things on a larger level."
Agdeppa was promoted to petty officer third class during this deployment and commented that Iraq has been a rewarding experience and helped him build leadership skills he will take back to California. He said the unit's combat experiences and ability to come together in the face of adversity served as a confidence booster for everyone, both on a professional and personal level.
"Initially, I was pretty shy, but I've learned a lot about them," said Agdeppa, who is working with the Marines for the first time in his Navy career. "Now we are a tight-knit family."
Busch said he is pleased with how the Marines have matured throughout the deployment and has no doubt they will succeed in their future endeavors.
"We have been very successful," said Busch. "My job is to give them the opportunities to better themselves and get them home."