In Iraq, MP numbers down while duties increase
TIKRIT, Iraq — When fewer than 100 troops showed up at Forward Operating Base Danger in February to relieve more than 300 military police from the 1st Infantry Division, the departing soldiers said they would wait for more help to arrive before beginning orientations.
Some of the incoming police laughed.
There weren’t any more coming.
“I just remember the 1st ID guys telling us, ‘You guys are going to be working your [tails] off,’” said Sgt. Benjamin Joress, of Framingham, Mass., a member of the 42nd Military Police Company, which will be going home soon.
Because their specialty is so understaffed, military police have seen some of their roles delegated to other units in Iraq. But their traditional law-enforcement roles also have been expanded into a jack-of-all-trades profession, keeping in step with the insurgency’s adaptations.
“We do a little bit of everything,” said Sgt. Daniel Spera, 28, of Medford, Mass. “MPs are such a limited resource right now, you see field artillerymen running control points.”
Besides setting up control checkpoints, MPs patrol cities and gather intelligence in support of combat operations. They also enforce law on base and set up customs desks for soldiers entering and leaving Iraq.
During its rotation, the 42nd military police also ran the jail at FOB Danger and transported detainees to prisons such as Abu Ghraib. Scrutiny on military police running detention centers rose 100-fold after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, Spera said.
“What happened there was a black eye for all MPs, especially the National Guard,” he said. “There were a lot of surprise inspections on us. It added stress.”
The majority of the 1st platoon soldiers are under the age of 25, Joress said. A few had corrections experience, but most had to learn on the job.
“It was a hard mission for me,” Joress said. “I was a 20-year-old kid working in a foreign prison. I’ve grown up a lot during this deployment … a lot of the guys here have.”
The company will be going home soon, as the 42nd Infantry Division continues to relinquish command to the 101st Airborne Division in this north-central Iraq area of operations. When they do, they could be replaced by an even smaller military police company, said commander Lt. Col. Joe Richiazzi, 41, of Buffalo, N.Y.
Even as the guardsmen anticipate their homecoming, they realize this may not be their last foreign deployment.
“The Army has downsized since the Cold War,” Spera said. “We’re needed more. It’s not like 10 or 15 years ago, where you trained two weeks in the summer. Now we’re needed on missions all around the world.”