FORT POLK, La. — You may see them checking identification at the access control points, directing traffic around blocked areas or simply patrolling the housing areas, but what you may not see is the time they spend training for deployments.
The Soldiers of Fort Polk’s 519th Military Police Battalion “Vipers” are both law enforcement officers and Soldiers, therefore they have to stay up-to-date on their mission essential tasks just as any other Army unit. The difference is that they also have to maintain post security while they train.
During a week-long field training exercise held May 7-12, Lt. Col. Sonja Whitehead, commander, 519th MP Bn, said because the unit is deployable, her Soldiers need to keep their skills sharp.
“We all have a responsibility to maintain the highest mission essential tasks (METs) proficiency, and that is what we are focused on for this (training) mission,” said Whitehead. “The 519th has a ‘prepare to deploy’ mission to support Northern Command, and while that is essential, we have to simultaneously maintain readiness for our other METs. Our primary missions (for this exercise) are to run our detention operations — detainee collection point and a detainee holding area — and also area security and mobility support (convoy security). We balance our training missions with the law enforcement mission and access control point commitment here at Fort Polk.”
Getting elements of every company in the battalion together for a training exercise is a challenge, but the 519th made it work, said Whitehead.
“Rarely do we get to have the entire battalion out, but we are maximizing the (number of Soldiers) we can have in the field with those other taskings. We’ve got elements of every company here, about 65-70 percent of the unit.”
The 204th and 258th Military Police companies rotated the responsibility of running the detainee collection point, or DCP, and the detainee holding area, or DHA, so that each company could gain the experience of running those operations.
The DCP, also called a “hasty” collection point, receives detainees that are captured from the infantry frontlines for initial processing. They are frisked for weapons and contraband, identified using biometric scanners (these compare fingerprints, iris patterns and faces to those catalogued in a central data base), and placed in a guarded area until they can be transported to the DHA, where they are more meticulously screened.
Capt. Dustin Tutin, company commander of 204th, explained his role for the DCP.
“I am responsible for mission command and command and control — ensuring the two platoons and one headquarters element I have are maximizing combat power, securing the DCP and establishing area security to ensure freedom of movement for U.S. and coalition forces in the area,” he said.
On May 11, Tutin’s company was given a mission to convoy to a local “village” to conduct key leader engagement and transfer high-value target and other detainees from the village jail to a DHA, where they would be thoroughly processed, medically assessed and interviewed. Convoy route security is just another part of what MPs do downrange.
Meanwhile, Capt. Jeff Ayres, company commander, 258th MP Co, was awaiting his new detainees at the DHA. He said the most important part of detainee operations is twofold: “Ensuring the detainees are safe and have water, food and medical support, and also, maintaining outer security (area defense).”
Ayres said the biggest challenge during the training was the heat.
“We’ve been trying to find that balance between the work and rest cycle, while fulfilling the heavy workload,” said Ayers. “We’re at heat category 5, on day four of the training, and the greatest thing I’ve seen out here is the Soldiers’ motivation. They are all staying motivated, they want to train and they are good at their tasks.”
Spc. Zachary Bergeron, 204th MP Co, also said the heat was daunting but the exercise was a positive learning experience.
“As a new leader, this (training) has been eye-opening. You have to be prepared for anything — pulling security or response to contact. I’m also learning how to lead Soldiers. From keeping their morale up to making sure they stay hydrated, (leadership) is all about taking care of your Soldiers,” he said.
The 91st Military Police Detachment participated in the training by breaking into two groups: One in the role of opposing forces and detainees, the other acting as host nation/police partner forces. The groups then switched places so everyone had a chance to learn these aspects.
Capt. Nathan Barnes, company commander, 91st MP Det, said his Soldiers work in a variety of real-world roles, and their skills are completely transferable to a combat environment.
“We have military police investigators, traffic accident investigators, desk sergeants who run dispatch and patrols, the force protection cell, and we have the 50th Military Working Dog Detachment,” he said. “So we have a lot of specialized police positions, and when we train in the field, we take the skills we use every day in normal operations at Fort Polk and just change the circumstances to a tactical environment.”
Barnes said his Soldiers were doing an outstanding job during the exercise.
“The detachment hasn’t been to the field in more than a year and the Soldiers are doing really well. They have been busy every day, going after all of our mission-essential training, and their motivation is much higher than I expected for people who are, more so than others, sitting at a desk or in a patrol car,” Barnes said.
“They have done a great job in keeping their morale high and staying occupied with training. I think they are receiving a great benefit from this training and that’s the feedback they have been giving me.”
Even the dogs had mission-essential tasks to perform during this exercise. Staff Sgt. Brandon Meyer, 50th MWD Det, said the dogs are used for dismounted patrols, improvised explosive device detection and individual apprehension.
“The most challenging thing is setting up an area for the canines to beat the heat yet remain acclimated. It’s important to find shade for them,” Meyer said. “Another challenge has been in-briefing units that are not used to working with MWDs. Handlers have to give unit briefs before the missions about canine capabilities. Some common questions are ‘what happens (next) when the dogs find an IED?’ and ‘what else can they do besides explosives sweeps?’”
Of the seven dogs used during the exercise, five were specifically trained for explosives detection, two for narcotics detection, and all could be used for individual apprehension.
Whitehead said she was pleased with how the exercise was going.
“I think it’s great. To see the young leaders in action, addressing the problem sets and coming up with their solutions, is great to see,” Whitehead said.
“The Military Police Corps is such a unique branch because of our different missions: Processing detainees, conducting law enforcement and investigations, patrolling, movement to contact, unit defense — these are all in the scope of our mission sets and we are doing all of that out here. Even our K9s are here doing some of their deployment missions. It’s remarkable to see all the different skill sets within the Military Police Corps, and they are doing it all this week during this FTX.”