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NEWS | March 14, 2018

Nothing to hide: MP Command continues program designed for equipment and unit readiness

By Maj. Valerie Palacios

FORT MEADE, Md. – Ever since Brig. Gen. Kelly Wakefield, former deputy commanding general of the 200th Military Police Command, introduced the maintenance terrain to the MP command in 2016, its popularity has grown among unit commanders and the number of requests is sometimes overwhelming.

The 290th MP Brigade is the most recent unit to request and receive the maintenance terrain walks, this time conducted by Maj. Gen. Marion Garcia, commanding general of the 200th MP Command, and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steve Combs, senior maintenance advisor, March 3-4, 2018, at units located in Nashville, Tennessee, and Cary, North Carolina.

"Do not try and hide anything. Be honest in the discussions," Combs said in advice to any unit who requests this type of review. "Understand this is a leadership development program and not an inspection."

Garcia and Combs, along with several members of the command's staff, visited the 535th MP Battalion, its headquarters company, and the 805th MP Company, all in the same weekend, to take a first-hand look at their records, equipment, weapons and vehicles.

Usually, the news of a commanding general visiting a unit's facilities might make Soldiers nervous. That's why the command emphasizes that this terrain walk is meant as a discussion, not an inspection. The idea is to expose everything, open all doors, all containers, open vehicles, and really "get in there," all with the intent of improving units. The visits are spent digging in to see and touch actual equipment and take a look at standard operating procedures and proper documentation.

Garcia reminds them that these visits are not intended as a threat nor should they be viewed as a criticism of a unit's current standards.

She said that units don't often implement the right policies and procedures because leaders and Soldiers may not be aware of them. These terrain walks are meant to provide education and mentorship to all unit members involved.

"People don't know what they don't know," Garcia said. "Let's walk through and talk about what we see together."

The goal is to help units remain combat ready at all times. This is a tool that boosts readiness not just at the equipment level, but also opens the discussion to the readiness of Soldiers, weapons and vehicles.

"It shows the importance of maintenance, and it allows command leadership to discuss ways of improving unit organization, effectiveness, and readiness," said Combs.

During this particular walkthrough, the process began with the 535th MP Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Vivek Kshetrapal, briefing unit status on personnel and inventory, followed by the headquarters company commander, Capt. Karl Richard and 805th MP Co. commander, Capt. Andrew Callanan, delivering information on their respective units.

Then, the commanders led Garcia and Combs through their armories, supply cages and motor pools. Garcia and Combs carefully assessed their equipment, their documentation and the conditions of the storage facilities. Key maintenance personnel were present to facilitate the terrain walk and to respond to their questions. This gave commanders the opportunity to assess and validate their Soldiers' knowledge and demonstration of proficiency.

Young Soldiers were given their moment to shine as Garcia entered their cages for a closer look at weapons and gas protection masks, and later reviewed the motor pool to check on vehicle maintenance and dispatches. These Soldiers were full of energy and expressed a strong sense of pride as they stood before Garcia and Combs, ready to participate in the process.

"We spend a lot of time looking at Soldier readiness, but the most ready Soldier with a vehicle that doesn't work, and a pro mask that doesn't fit, and a weapon that malfunctions is not going to get very far. The Army is about ready units," said Garcia.

The informal process allowed commanders and Soldiers to feel at ease and comfortable enough to have conversations about their inventory with the commanding general and command senior maintenance advisor.

As the commanding general of the 200th Military Police Command, Garcia knows her units well and she is there so the commanders and Soldiers can freely ask questions and learn. These terrain walks serve as a time for mentorship at every level.

Combs served as the subject matter expert on maintenance during the walkthrough. He offered direct feedback and advice on unit operations meeting a higher standard, and offered best practices to follow in the field.

"I have been able to provide ways on improving and mentoring younger service members with maintenance management," said Combs. "This program is great, in my opinion. It has also validated the need for senior maintainers to do more mentoring."

Maintenance terrain walks have been around for some time in the Army on active duty, but the 200th MP Command is among few who conduct these in the U.S. Army Reserve.

"I've never done anything like it (before this command). I wish someone would have done that for me when I was young," said Garcia.

Garcia receives great feedback from these visits, and unit leaders appreciate that she takes the time conduct terrain walks.

"As I'm going around, I ask the same questions, and now it's to the point where they know what questions I'm going to ask. And, they're ready with the answers," she said. "So, they're calling each other and getting some information ahead of time, which is exactly what we want them to do. We want everyone to be working together as a team. And, I see them (working together) and helping each other along."

During the visits Garcia and Combs also give junior leaders some mentorship on actions they can take at their level.

Garcia said, "I can tell there is a lot of energy and a lot of engaged leaders. This is a good day for me, I got to spend the day with young people who care about what they are doing and excited about making a difference."

Kshetrapal expressed his appreciation for the visit and value it brought to his team. He looks forward to improving items addressed during their visit, most of which required simple fixes.

"I learned a lot just getting ready for this," said Kshetrapal. "I've got multiple pages of notes here, and I certainly am not going to let (their) time … go to waste. So we are going to have to get after fixing this."

Kshetrapal spoke to his leaders and Soldiers after the visit and reminded them that they are in it together, "We'll never be done. We just have to be better than this."