FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. — The training days start early at Fort Hunter Liggett, with Soldiers waking up as early as three or four in the morning just so they can break down tents and reset at a new site before the scorching heat cuts through the mountainous land.
As the 100-degree heat burns through the day, the work continues. Setting up concertina wire. Pounding poles into the stubborn ground. Securing checkpoints under the sparse shade of trees spotted along the miles of dusty roads.
The condition inside most tents is no better without the air-conditioning units attached. Switching training sites from one site to the next – a process known as “Jump TOC” – is required by every U.S. Army Reserve unit that trains in the field. This replicates not just a deployment, but reacting to enemy threats that push U.S. forces to adjust locations.
“The enemy gets a say in where we move sometimes,” said Col. John Hafley, commander of the 11th Military Police Brigade, headquartered in Los Alamitos, California.
“What I want these Soldiers to recognize is that when they come into theater, especially a contested theater, that it’s ‘Game On’ as soon as they hit the ground,” said Hafley.
His brigade’s mission at the Combat Support Training Exercise (CSTX) is to oversee military police operations. MPs provide combat support to combat-arms units, but just as importantly, they secure prisoners of war and displaced civilians on the battlefield.
Their particular training scenario involves securing up to 4,000 enemy prisoners of war and hundreds of civilians. But the brigade is not here to do it alone. This exercise joins their command and control responsibilities with several battalions and companies. Their combined effort spans the fight from strategic to kinetic.
“It’s a pretty brilliant deal from the top down,” said 1st Lt. Alexander Rosado, the executive officer of the 348th Military Police Company, which was responsible for setting up a detention compound with concertina and tents for their battalion to run operations.
“Once you get to CSTX, all these MP companies, battalions, up to brigade all come together. You realize how much you rely on each other, and how with unity of command, you can run something like a 500-person compound, all the way up to a Theater Detention Facility, up to 4,000,” said Rosado, whose unit is from Ames, Iowa.
The mission is understood even down to the youngest Soldiers.
As battalion commanders and even two-star generals visit the detention center, it’s not a weathered sergeant who escorts them along, but a specialist. Her brief is informative and confident, answering questions about prisoner handling, medical care, living conditions and the overall flow of their camp’s in-processing.
“In a real-world situation, if we were to deploy, we’d be able to understand exactly what our job (responsibilities) are going to be and exactly what we’re going to encounter on a day-to-day basis,” said Spc. Allyson Scott, who briefed the VIPs.
Scott is not a military police Soldier but an administrative specialist with the 348th MP Company. Yet, she understands the detention mission as well as any of her fellow MPs.
Scott said she enjoys learning from all the Soldiers she comes in contact with as part of the bigger mission. Combat support MPs bring captured prisoners to the detention center, who are then processed by battalion staff, with daily updates reported up to the brigade, which informs even higher commands to help make strategic decisions.
Whether a Soldier is delivering prisoners or a commander is overseeing the war from a battlefield level, every role matters.
“Their part is vitally important to the overall war-effort in theater. What they do makes a difference,” said Hafley.
That means every prisoner in the custody of MPs is treated with dignity and respect. It means proper accountability of their belongings, providing them with medical care and keeping them safe while also guarded.
Yet, part of learning from the past also means that future conflicts will change from the wars fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We gotta start fighting the wars of tomorrow. Our adversaries are getting better. Our near-peer adversaries have been watching us for years as we operate in the Middle East, and we have to break away from the ways we fought there … That’s what we want out of the CSTX experience,” said Hafley.
Training at Fort Hunter Liggett allows Army Reserve Soldiers the ability to work together for several weeks straight, a huge value added to the limitations of battle assembly weekends. Soldiers who come here sleep under the stars and sweat under the sun for three or four weeks straight.
All for one purpose.
“It’s to be ready,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Winsome Laos, the command sergeant major for the 11th MP Brigade.
“We have to be trained, and we have to hone our skills. That’s the only way we get better … I know it’s taxing on the family life, the civilian life, but when duty calls the American public wants to know that our Soldiers are trained like their lives are at stake. They deserve the best,” she said.