South Korea-based MPs on way to Iraq
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The U.S. Army in South Korea has deployed 70 military police officers to Iraq for MP duty there until next spring. With what seemed an air of eagerness and buoyancy, the troops — two platoons of the 728th Military Police Battalion — boarded a commercial jet here Wednesday morning.
Sending them off with smiles and handshakes were Korea-based Army brass, including 8th Army commander Lt. Gen. Charles C. Campbell. The 8th Army Band played military marches as the troops filed toward the boarding stairs.
The Army needs the troops in Iraq to pull MP duties while it adjusts the scheduling of units involved in Iraq rotation, officials said.
“As the Army is supporting a very heavy operations tempo with multiple units rotating in and out in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Maj. Kate Johnson, an 8th U.S. Army spokeswoman in Seoul, “there was a need to provide a supplemental unit while the rotation schedule is being reset.
“So basically ... they’ve looked at our units and they’ve said, ‘Okay, we need these units for several months while we reset the schedule.’
“This redeployment does not represent the start of a trend of sending soldiers from the peninsula to Southwest Asia,” Johnson said. “Our mission is the deterrence on the peninsula, and remains deterrence on the peninsula.”
At the Osan flight line Wednesday, many of the troops wore smiles, could be heard joking with one another and moved briskly about the task of readying their rucksacks and weapons for the flight to Iraq.
“They’re ready to go,” said their battalion commander, Lt. Col. Steven L. Crowe. “They’re itchin’. So that’s good.”
The troops are drawn from two of the battalion’s companies: the 57th Military Police Company at Camp Carroll in Waegwan, and the 552nd Military Police Company at Camp Hialeah in Pusan. Each company furnished a platoon — 35 MPs including the platoon leader and platoon sergeant. The battalion is headquartered at Camp Henry in Taegu.
It received orders recently to quickly prepare the two platoons for Iraq duty.
What ensued were several weeks of intense preparations within the battalion and its parent unit, the 8th Military Police Brigade, officials said.
The push was “a Herculean effort on my staff’s part and the brigade staff’s part to get them out,” Crowe said. “There’s just no time. We get the mission, and two-and-a-half weeks later, we have to go.”
The troops themselves underwent two weeks of Iraq-specific combat training that emphasized how to cope with roadside bombs and similar explosive devices and tips about the Iraqi people and culture, officials said.
“The thing we keep stressing is, know the basics and just keep your eyes and ears open,” Crowe said.
“The same skill sets that they apply here they’ll apply there, said Col. Falkner Heard III, commanding officer of the 8th Military Police Brigade.
“But now, you know, the ‘pucker factor’ goes up … ” he said. “In Iraq they’ll be in a hostile environment and I think that always makes them a little more focused and a little sharper.”
In the run-up to Wednesday’s departure, the battalion added new training topics for the deploying MPs: handling the IED, or improvised explosive device, as well as Iraq-specific cultural awareness instruction.
“The hottest one we trained them on was IED,” said Capt. Tonya Hightower, commanding officer of the 57th Military Police Company. “IED awareness and convoy operations — the common trends ... going on there right now.”
The training was fast-paced and intensive, with the task force training “at least 12, sometimes 16 to 18 hours a day for the last two weeks,” Hightower said.
For Pfc. Ray Savoy, 19, of Aquasco, Md., the training was “pretty intense. It was good training all around. I took every bit of it and soaked it all in. I’m ready because they said ‘Expect the worst.’ That was what all the training was for.”
When Savoy, the task force guidon bearer, phoned his mother with word he’d be going to Iraq, he told her not to worry. But his words don’t seem to have taken hold yet, he said in a flightline interview shortly before boarding the plane.
Crowe called the deployment “a historic moment for the battalion because since the Korean War, it’s been here the whole time.”
Some 10 to 15 percent of the task force personnel have “seen combat” in Iraq, Afghanistan, or other conflicts like Somalia, Crowe said.
“So they’re kind of mentors and advisers” to the rest of the task force troops, he said.