They maintain order but try to forgo force. One day they’re investigating a crime. The next they’re providing area security in a combat zone. Skilled at switching between roles in public order and war, military police have become leading players in the Army’s war on terrorism. So essential are MPs on today’s battlefield that recruits attending the military police school at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., are almost certain to deploy from their first duty stations.
“Most of them are only 18 or 19 years old, but these Soldiers know there’s a war going on. We’re putting them through the most stressful situations allowed so they’ll be ready,” said CPT Douglas Clay, company commander for a recent class of trainees.
The minimum age to enter civilian law enforcement is typically 21. It’s just 18 for those committing to Uncle Sam. SFC Mark Ford, the school’s operations branch chief, said age doesn’t equal the degree of responsibility given to military police, who he believes bear more responsibility than their civilian counterparts.
“Law and order are just part of their five-piece mission. Their jobs can change focus daily, and they have to be flexible. But being multipurpose is what most of them enjoy about their jobs,” Ford said.
Military police have the choice of two occupational specialties: basic combat support MP and corrections specialist. Training for each specialty lasts nine weeks, much of it at Fort Leonard Wood’s Stem Village, a mock town featuring confinement facilities, residential structures, a bank and a theater.
Law-enforcement training starts with instruction on Miranda rights and military law, then proceeds to evidence collection, search and apprehension, police reports, and forms, vehicle inspection, traffic directing and convoy escorts, interrogations and interviews, and response to such incidents as suicide attempts, rape, damage to private property and domestic abuse.
MPs specializing in corrections branch off to hone skills they’ll need for running correctional and confinement facilities like the U.S. Army Confinement Facility-Europe at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim, Germany. Topics include the Army’s correctional system, custody and confinement procedures, and prisoner administration.
Whether assigned to a police station, a confinement facility or deployed to a combat zone, MPs must know how to give verbal commands, and conduct prone-position and wall searches. The ability to use force can seem a necessity for MPs, who may need to physically restrain perpetrators.
But it’s technique — not strength or violence — that they use to control subjects. “Unarmed self-defense is all about executing the right moves and striking in the right places. Body size and strength have nothing to do with it,” said drill sergeant SSG Michael Baker.
And though handcuffing may appear simple, Soldiers spend hours learning how and where to place handcuffs on both compliant and noncompliant subjects. “When we apprehend someone, we’re liable for their safety,” Ford said.
Lessons learned in Iraq have inspired the school’s leaders to keep training realistic and relevant with steady updates. Instruction on urban warfare, for example, has gone from one day to four. Rising populations and urban growth make it essential, instructors said.
“At some level, we’re always going to have boots on the ground, and we’re always going to need to fight and survive in cities — no matter what job specialty Soldiers have,” said CPT Chris Heberer, instructor for the MP Officer Basic Course.
Half the challenge of urban warfare is being prepared for all the variables. The other half is anticipating what will be on the other side of the door getting kicked down, or whether the enemy will lurk around the next corner or hover on a rooftop.
MPs providing security and reconnaissance operations in Iraq have also encouraged the addition of mobile-fire training. Beyond qualification on the 9mm pistol, recruits now head to the range to practice firing Mk. 19 grenade launchers and M-249s machine guns from atop moving vehicles.
“We’re shoulder to shoulder with combat-arms Soldiers,” Heberer said. “Commanders are realizing that we have a lot of knowledge and expertise to contribute and that an MP platoon brings an incredible amount of firepower to the battle.”
They can also be a less threatening presence than tanks and infantry. It’s their subdued yet persuasive presence most Army planners value on the battlefield.
The media’s spotlight on the abuse of enemy prisoners of war at the U.S.- controlled Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004 shocked most MPs, said SSG John Fair, who teaches EPW handling to recruits. But trainees are as confident as ever, he said.
“We’re here to learn everything we can about doing our jobs as professionally as possible,” said PV2 Richard Carpenter of himself and classmates. “We haven’t let the bad press or the actions of a few bad Soldiers affect us.”
While the initial encounter between MPs and EPWs can be hostile, trainees are taught to let up on force once prisoners are seized and under control. They learn to treat prisoners respectfully — the same way MPs are expected to treat military members apprehended in garrison environments.
MPs are also responsible for feeding and clothing EPWs. And in the case of an attack, they must also defend prisoners. The Army’s focus on the treatment of EPWs has not changed since the Abu Ghraib controversy, Fair said. “The doctrine has not changed. The mission has not changed, and training has not changed.”
Maturity and War
“It’s not often that you get a young adult of 18 with the authority that a military police Soldier has,” said COL George Millan, director of training at the MP school. “It takes someone with maturity and common sense in dealing with people.”
MPs took a high-profile role in the war soon after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. The New York National Guard’s 442nd MP Company, for example, contributed to rescue-and-recovery efforts at the World Trade Center following the attack. The unit also provided security in New York City’s mass transit systems. And in April 2003, the 442nd’s Soldiers returned from a year of duty in Iraq, where they trained Iraqi police.
“Law enforcement is something most of us do every day because we have a large number of civilian police officers in the unit,” said company commander CPT Sean O’Donnell. “Most Iraqis had heard about the NYPD, so they wanted to learn as much from us as they could. Our experience enabled us to provide some of the most current training available.”
The demand for MPs on the battlefield and in garrison has been taxing for active-duty and reserve-component Soldiers. Thousands of Guard and Reserve members in artillery units have been reclassified as MPs and stationed at bases throughout the United States and Germany, while active-duty MPs remain in Iraq. The Army has also enacted the Stop-Loss Program to keep active- and reserve-component MPs from dropping off the rolls.
Future plans for the MP Corps include the creation of entire companies that specialize in detainee operations. “This need goes back to Afghanistan, where we found that we just didn’t have enough Soldiers with that type of skill set,” Millan said. And as missions change, so will training. New batches of instructors will arrive from deployments around the globe, and their experiences will shape course development.
“New instructors will come to us with the knowledge of what the textbooks tell us to do, as well as what Soldiers are actually doing in war, where they’re updating tactics on the move,” Heberer said. “We’ll continue to incorporate those lessons learned to save lives.”
“An MP’s job can be stressful with so much responsibility entrusted to him,” O’Donnell said. “MPs must make decisions on an independent basis, and not rely on being steered by leaders.”
“It’s not just a sense of authority that attracts men and women to the MP Corps,” O’Donnell said. “We’re all common in the sense that we want to help and serve others. We’re selfless by choice.”