FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – They had been working all day in the heat to set up a 400-foot, multi-tent command post, plus five “GP Medium” tents for sleeping. Still, as the sun came down, Soldiers knew they had more work to do. They had cots to unpack and more training to complete before tucking into their sleeping bags for the night.
This is typical life in the field for U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers who train in austere environments throughout the summer. But for the 200th Military Police Command, it was their first field training exercise together as a unit since the command stood up in April 2008.
“The whole purpose of this annual training is to exercise our METL, or our ‘Mission Essential Task List.’ Our METL states we need to be able to deploy and redeploy as a unit. That means moving all of our equipment out to the field, setting up tents, setting up our communications … everything necessary to support a combatant commander,” said Col. William Vaughn, the chief of staff for the 200th MP Command.
Nobody would accuse a command-level staff of being a group of “grunts,” but they played the part as Soldiers of every rank pitched in to help: from private to colonel. Even Command Sgt. Maj. Craig Owens, the command’s senior enlisted leader with more than 30 years of service, stepped in line to unload cots from a truck. In the heat and humidity, he joined his troops to pass cots to Soldiers as they assembled and placed them inside tents.
“I’m from the old school,” said Owens. “If they see me working and see me get out here and sweat, I think it motivates these young Soldiers to keep going.”
The weeklong training took place at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, from July 29 to Aug. 4. During the exercise, the 200th MP Command staffs and its headquarters company set ambitious goals for themselves in case of a call to deploy. The main objective was to show they could move as a command post from their home station to a mobilized location and work in a field environment.
If any group of military police could be called “strategic gurus,” it would be the 200th MP Command, which is the largest MP organization across the Department of Defense. During peacetime, the command is responsible for the logistics, training and administrative organization of 14,000 Soldiers, stationed in 150-plus units across 33 different states. That’s a lot of planning and strategy for “just” a bunch of MPs.
“The whole purpose for us being able to deploy to a large theater of operation is to serve as the military police experts. Operating at a platoon of MPs or a company of MPs is a whole lot different from being able to operate a theater of MPs,” said Vaughn.
If the call is ever made to deploy, the command can mobilize either as a whole headquarters or as split command posts specializing in military police missions. That means they would serve as the leading experts on detention operations, safeguarding displaced civilians, and maintaining law and order on military bases. Military police units at the company level also serve in “combat support” roles, which means they provide quick reaction teams, firepower and combat-ready Soldiers to fight alongside infantry units. At the command level, the 200th MP Command would oversee, guide and shape the support of thousands of MP Soldiers to serve the combatant commander in charge of a battlefield.
The 200th MP Command is training simply because it knows the reality of this complex world. Its military police Soldiers – and even its command-level staff – could deploy anywhere at any time.
“We want the American people to keep in mind, especially in the summertime, as they watch long convoys of vehicles going down the highway, those are Army Reserve units going to the field to train. The whole purpose of training is to make our readiness better to defend the American public … They’re doing it because it’s important to them to defend the security of this nation, and people can sleep well at night knowing that we have the best military in the world,” said Vaughn.
In addition to setting up a bivouac site, Soldiers from the 200th MP Command also conducted three gunnery ranges with the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, M2 .50-cal Machine Gun and the MK19 Automatic Grenade Launcher. They received biometrics training for detention operations. Senior leaders from each staff section worked together on a real-world Military Decision Making Process exercise. Soldiers also trained on military radios (better known as SINCGARS), convoy operations, night vision goggles and more.
The week was so packed with training that most evenings leadership slept only three to four hours a night. Approximately 80 Soldiers and leaders participated this time, which ran everyone thin on accomplishing so much in such a short period of time. The goal is to have another field training exercise in nine months, but twice as long in duration and with twice as many Soldiers.
“The more we go out to the field, the more we run convoys, the more we set up command tents, the better we’re going to be. The goal is to get more and more repetitions. That way we can become better as a unit,” said Owens.