TEMPE, Ariz. — Fishermen, joggers and bikers turned their heads as they watched a group of Soldiers march by wearing gas masks, carrying 40-pound rucks on their shoulders.
These weren’t Soldiers fresh out of basic combat training. This formation consisted of command sergeants major from across the 200th Military Police Command: men and women with plenty of years and Army experience.
Leading from the front, Command Sgt. Maj. Craig Owens set the pace as senior NCOs from his brigades and battalions followed in step.
“We want to show our Soldiers that their sergeants major can still do ruck marches,” said Owens, the command sergeant major of the 200th MP Command, headquartered in Fort Meade, Maryland.
The 200th MP Command is the senior law enforcement organization in the U.S. Army Reserve, responsible for 14,000 Army Reserve Soldiers located in 113 units across 33 states. Their Soldiers train year round and deploy across the globe in support of detention operation, combat support and criminal investigations. The command's headquarters itself is equipped with theater-level planning and coordination expertise in support of large-scale missions and oversee MP operations in a conflict environment.
With those gas masks over their faces, these men and women looked like figures out of a post-apocalyptic world, but as the sun crested the Arizona landscape, the warm air showed no evidence of a chemical attack.
Instead, this march was designed as a team-building exercise, stretching for miles along the Salt River jogging trail in Tempe, Arizona.
But with this early morning “stroll,” Owens wanted to send a message.
“I think it’s critical: The Army has to be able to depend on the Army Reserve. We have to let them know that when we come, we’re ready for the fight. That’s why we train hard … That includes training our minds, our bodies and our souls to be ready when we are called upon by Big Army,” said Owens after the march.
Owens holds that same expectation of readiness for all 14,000 of his Soldiers. That’s why he held the ruck march with his senior enlisted leaders: as a reminder that their units may be called to deploy at any moment, and where they go next, gas masks could save their lives.
“Knowing the (conflict) environment we’re in now, the potential of having a (Nuclear, Biological or Chemical) type of attack is very possible. I thought it would be beneficial for us to start training with that as well,” said Owens.
The idea for the march came from a recent trip Owens took to South Korea, visiting U.S. Soldiers stationed in the Pacific. This ruck march, however, was just a piece of a bigger gathering for these senior enlisted leaders. Owens hosts a quarterly “CSM Huddle” as an opportunity to discuss hot-topic issues involving his subordinate units and troops.
“All the CSM Huddles are always beneficial. It’s a chance to get all CSMs together and get the latest and greatest information,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John Schiffli, of the 290th MP Brigade, located in Nashville, Tennessee.
During this huddle, held at an Army Reserve center in Scottsdale, command sergeants major discussed every pressing topic, from finances and equipment to the expectations of training in austere environments.
“As an MP Command, I know we serve a large percentage of internment and detention operations for the Army, which is the focus of my battalion,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Shelita Taylor, 400th MP Battalion, also located at Fort Meade. “The training we received this morning, and the ruck march, mirrors the training Soldiers in (South) Korea receive. I’m anxious to continue to train at that level within my own battalion.”
The huddle serves an opportunity not only for Owens to push critical information out, but for all of the sergeants major to work in sync with one another, considering their units are spread across 32 states, and it’s rare for them to see one another face-to-face.
“I think we get a lot of takeaways from these huddles. One of them is the continued building of relationships and friendships. We grow stronger as a team, as senior (noncommissioned officers). We share common goals and experiences. We talk to each other, and because we all fight the same fight, the same battle … We can discuss solutions of our (mutual) problems,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Canada of the 300th MP Brigade, located in Detroit, Michigan.
As command sergeants major, these NCOs are responsible for supporting battalion and brigade commanders by implementing the command’s plans into action. They advise commanders on policy, while ensuring their Soldiers complete all training requirements. Even though these command sergeants major are “part time” Reserve Soldiers, their lives are a never-ending firestorm of problem solving, often making phone calls and sending emails late into the night, or even while on vacation. Being a command sergeant major in the Army Reserve is like taking on a “part time” job that consumes life and work full time.
For them, this early morning ruck-march was just a metaphor for who they are as Army Reserve leaders.
“It shows me that as command sergeants major, we are willing to take the lead and show our Soldiers what right looks like. We’re willing to be first at showing that level of commitment, capability and endurance to do what the Army asks us to do. So our Soldiers are shown consistently that we’re ready for this level of mission, and we’re enthusiastic to lead the way,” said Taylor.