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NEWS | June 21, 2017

Military police keep pounding through change of mission and mindset

By Master Sgt. Michel Sauret 200th Military Police Command

“Keep pounding” was more than a slogan for U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers training at WAREX in California this month.

It was a reality: both physical and mental.

The ground was so hard that military police Soldiers broke five mallets while pounding tent pegs into the dirt. As each mallet broke, they just kept pounding with the next one. The heat climbed above 100 degrees Fahrenheit each day, and even though it was a dry heat, it caused the dust to fly around and settle on Soldiers from their eyebrows down to their bootstraps.

But the ground and the heat weren’t the only obstacles military police faced during this WAREX.

WAREX, which stands for Warrior Exercise, is a cyclical training event designed to evaluate U.S. Army Reserve brigades, battalions and companies in their specific functional areas.

When the 384th Military Police Battalion traveled from Indiana to California for their training, they thought they knew exactly what they were getting into. They’d been planning for month for their usual mission: detention operations for enemy prisoners of war.

Except, without warning, the mission changed on them. Instead of guarding hundreds of prisoners, they were now tasked with feeding and housing thousands of displaced civilians.

“We’re equipped to in-process 550 people a day. But on one day, busloads of 800 people showed up as an ‘inject.’ We had to move into accelerated in-processing,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Adamson, the 384th MP Bn. commander.

Thankfully, those numbers were “notional,” but for the battalion staff it didn’t make much of a difference. They still had to react and execute planning as if 800 human beings had just showed up on their installation. This tested their battle staff procedures, decision-making, communication and logistics. All of that while being required to pack up and move their tactical operational spaces in the middle of their exercise.

“We didn’t have a playbook for this kind of mission, so we’re building one on the fly,” said Adamson.

It’s a good thing the playbook is being written now, before the team enters a real theater of war. Switching from a “prisoner operation” to a “life support” mission is significant. But the scenario was not put together on a whim. Rather, taking care of displaced civilians is a very real possibility for military police as the U.S. Army prepares for its next potential conflict.

In the last 15 years of fighting, U.S. troops have fought mainly in counter-insurgency operations, often known as “asymmetric warfare.” Now, the Army wants to maintain that knowledge and awareness, but also return to its roots of fighting “near-peer” enemies, such as organized military forces.

“We’ve been dealing with insurgent type activity (for so long). When you start thinking about linear battlefield and uniformed enemy, it’s totally different,” said Maj. Travis Gilbert, officer in charge of operations for the 384th MP Bn.

“Our focus has always been, ‘Eyes in. Guns in,’ while watching detainees, to now the mission changes with displaced civilians: ‘Eyes out. Guns out. Provide security.’ Just a huge mindset change,” said Gilbert.

In such a scenario, when a war first breaks out, there will be thousands of civilians whose homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure are destroyed. They will need shelter, food, medical aid and care.

“Someone has to take care of them. That’s a huge partnership we have with civil affairs, to provide life support and meet their physical needs,” said Adamson.

For the first time, also, setting up their own tents for sleeping and operations in a training environment felt more real than ever.

“Most of us know that over the course of the last 15 years, when we deploy, we fall in on hardened structures and air conditioning and pre-set communications and all that infrastructure that’s set up, right?” said Gilbert.

Not so in any potentially new conflict. There will be no amenities welcoming Soldiers for their next fight. No housing units, Internet connectivity or dining facilities serving warm steaks. The only stakes will be the ones getting pounded into the hard ground to raise new tents.

So as military police Soldiers “keep pounding” during WAREX, hopefully this training prepares them well for whatever enemy and obstacles the U.S. Army Reserve faces next.