MPs at Anaconda get used to multitasking
November 18, 2004
LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Iraq — About one hour after dark recently, the headlights of Staff Sgt. Ken Williams’ patrol vehicle captured a Humvee gliding through a stop sign on base like it was National Scofflaw Week.
Williams tickled his flashing, multicolored lights and the Humvee pulled off the road and stopped. Williams did the same and hopped out of his vehicle.
He was about to lecture the driver on the need to obey traffic laws on base when — CRACK! A mortar round landed about 300 yards away, close enough to fill the air immediately with the smell of the explosive.
Williams jumped back in his vehicle and rushed to the scene. An early radio report from his command post told him to expect injuries.
The incident demonstrates the multitask responsibility of the 44 members of the 362nd Military Police Detachment (Law and Order), a Reserve unit from Pennsylvania, but made up of soldiers from various states.
“We’re probably the only Reserve unit that hasn’t spent any time in the Reserve,” said Capt. William Allen Jr., the commander.
The unit was created a little more than one year ago and immediately put on active duty and ordered to Iraq. It provides the on-base security for LSA Anaconda, home to about 23,000 troops, contractors and Department of Defense civilians.
The duties include everything from cracking down on shoplifting at the post exchange and securing the perimeter after a mortar attack to treating the wounded.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” said Allen, a Florida native.
They are, essentially, cops on the beat. They have been called to break up fights between soldiers and responded when a GI’s CD player went missing.
They’ve even busted soldiers for having alcohol sent to them through the mail, including one soldier who mailed himself 160 cans of beer while on leave in the States. When it arrived and was discovered, all 160 cans were poured onto the ground at the MP headquarters.
“You’ve never seen so many grown men cry,” said Williams, a veteran corrections officer in the United States.
They’ve busted a person with hashish, arrested drunken drivers and responded to a rape.
Sometimes more than one thing happens at once. Allen said he responded to a call of a male soldier beating up a female soldier in the middle of a mortar attack.
“I had to go make the arrest,” he said.
They have been criticized for their attention to traffic laws, such as speeding and stop sign violation. Allen responds by noting that three soldiers died this week in traffic accidents in Iraq because safety rules were ignored.
“Three wasted lives,” he said.
This base, with its high number of vehicles ranging from small trucks to Abrams tanks, has its share of accidents, some resulting in injuries.
“We average probably an accident to two accidents a day,” said Allen.
Near the base’s main gate are the remains of a car that had a run-in with a Bradley fighting vehicle and came out the obvious loser. It sits there as a reminder.
Williams said he arrested a man driving 85 mph one evening. The base is dark, he said, and many soldiers walk from place to place. Speed can kill.
One of their main duties is simply to patrol, driving the roads inside the 14-mile perimeter for hours at a time, keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.
Staff Sgt. Louis Geiser, who works as a store detective for Bloomingdale’s in Philadelphia and is a former active-duty MP, said he keeps his eyes out for suspicious bags, vehicles that haven’t been moved in days or people walking where they shouldn’t be.
“I do tend to pay more attention to local nationals, third-country nationals,” he said.
The base employs a sizable number of non-American workers for everything from food preparation to laundry to construction. Geiser said he may notice, for example, if someone in a food worker’s uniform is far away from a dining facility at meal time.
Upon arriving last February, Geiser said, he would have preferred more duty out on the Iraqi roads, something more exciting, perhaps.
“It gets tedious at times,” Geiser admitted of his job. “But after being here awhile, I believe we’re doing some good.”
That was shown in June when the exchange was hit in an attack and three people were killed and several others were wounded. The MPs saved lives that day with a quick and effective response to the call, Allen said.
When an attack takes place, every MP in the unit reports for duty, Allen said.
“When that happens, they all report to the MP station, whether they’re in bed or just got off duty,” he said.
In the recent attack, only one minor injury was reported. The POI — point of impact — was found later in the evening. What had begun as a quiet day for the cops in the 362nd MP Detachment had suddenly gotten exciting.
“Sometimes it’s boring and sometimes you’re running three different ways at once,” Williams said. “It can be quiet one minute. And everything breaks loose the next second.”
That’s the way it was with the recent attack that interrupted Williams’ traffic stop. He rushed to the scene and found people taking shelter in bunkers. Several rounds had landed, but he couldn’t find the POI or any injured.
Williams, wearing a small lamp on his helmet, searched around and inside a nearby building, walking at a pace that was nearly a trot. He asked in the bunkers if anyone was injured and received a negative response.
Satisfied, he reported to the MP station via his radio, “Zero down. Zero down.”
He later said he thinks people hit the ground at the first blast and were mistaken for injured.
Other MPs arrived to direct traffic and help with the search. Among them was Staff Sgt. Robert Parkington, an organ recovery coordinator in Baltimore. He was on his way to the gym for a post-duty workout when the first blast hit.
“I thought, I better go get dressed,” he said. “I came in to see where they needed me.”
Attacks are so frequent — several times daily is normal — MPs rarely get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep without getting called to work.
“There’s always that chance,” said Parkington. “We’re over here. I don’t expect anything less.”