Mobile academy builds Iraqi police force
August 2, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — She’s only 23 and stands all of 5 feet 4 inches tall, but in a faraway corner of northern Iraq, 1st Lt. Jessica Donckers is The Law.
Donckers and her platoon of military police not only protect a 48-kilometer-square section of the Ninewa province, they have developed a mobile, two-week police academy.
It has graduated five classes of Iraqi cops who are taking responsibility for the security of their people.
The young West Point graduate “is doing a helluva job,” said Col. Ben Hodges, commander of the “Bastogne Bulldogs,” the 101st Airborne’s 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade. “I am proud of her. And I am proud of everyone” in her platoon.
The Bastogne Brigade arrived in northern Iraq in early May and set up its headquarters at Qayyarah West Airfield, about 30 miles east of Mosul.
Through April, the MPs assigned to the brigade worked to “secure the area — looking for [weapons] caches, clearing off looters, and so on,” Donckers said during a late-night interview last week at the airfield.
After the war, however, “the [local] police here were so confused,” said Donckers, who hails from Marquette, Mich. “Some were staying home, some coming to work. But a lot of them didn’t have weapons or vehicles. And no one had gotten paid since before the war.”
“So we went right to work” getting the Iraqi police back on its feet, she said.
The MPs first paid the local cops two months of back wages.
“That let them know we cared and were serious,” she said.
Next, the military police started patrolling with the Iraqis, “to help give them confidence,” she said.
Once those patrols were running smoothly, Hodges gave Donckers a new mission: Teach the Iraqi cops American policing standards.
So Donckers and her senior NCOs developed a two-week training schedule.
“We looked at what we’d want one of our privates to know coming from [basic training],” she said.
Those skills include clearing buildings, search techniques, appropriate force levels and some ethics training.
The soldiers created a mobile academy of sorts that moved from town to village, training several dozen people at a time. Five classes have taken the course and one more is schedule to take it before a more permanent police academy is created in Mosul, Donckers said.
There is a lot to cram into two weeks, and the schedule is intensive, Donckers said.
“We do PT in the morning and smoke ’em, then move right into training,” she said.
That said, the training project has had its share of challenges, Donckers said.
One major issue has been literacy.
“The average policeman in my region has four to six years of school, and he still can’t read or write,” Donckers said.
To get around the problem, the MPs “began giving oral exams, instead of written,” she said.
Another barrier was language. Both Arabic and Kurdish are spoken in the region, and neither language bears any resemblance to the other.
Translators helped, but so did the mime skills the military police created.
“It is just amazing to me to watch my platoon,” Donckers said. “They’ve grown so much in breaking the language barrier. They’re using hand and arm signals that are just the coolest. You can see their passion to make sure the [Iraqis] do it right.”
The MPs also had to make some adjustments regarding weapons. The U.S. military is outfitting the Iraqi police with cleaned and reconditioned Soviet-made weapons captured from illegal caches.
“So what we did was to find someone in each group who is proficient and let him teach marksmanship to the others,” Donckers said.
The MPs also quickly learned to assign each class an Iraqi group leader.
“It instills a sense of Iraqi ownership” in the training process, she said. “They’re not answering to us if they’re late or something, they’re answering to one of their own.”