FORT MEADE, Md. — For the first time ever, the Army Reserve has a Senior Leader Course (SLC) specifically for military police who specialize in detention operations and criminal investigations.
“I have a lot of appreciation for it. I’m among quite a few staff sergeants throughout the Army Reserve waiting on this course to progress in our career,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Vetrano, a military police Soldier currently attending the pilot SLC.
“This course gives us that purpose and a little bit more motivation to continue our career and progress,” said Vetrano.
Up until now, Vetrano was among a backlog of nearly 250 staff sergeants who could not get into the active duty course, which had extremely limited “seats” for Army Reserve Soldiers, and yet is a requirement for promotion to sergeant first class in their career field. The training was also too long for Soldiers who have civilian careers outside of the military. Many of these Soldiers have been staff sergeants for years – one for as long as 13 years – waiting to finally attend SLC.
All of these Soldiers are hardworking noncommissioned officers (NCOs), many with deployment experience, said Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Thomsen, the operations sergeant major for the 200th Military Police Command, which is responsible for nearly 14,000 Soldiers – mostly MPs – across the U.S. Army Reserve.
“They’ve done all the things the Army has asked them to do, but we haven’t had a school to send them to (until now),” Thomsen said.
He gives credit to the leadership and senior NCOs throughout the 200th MP Command who spearheaded this project. They had been working to fix the problem for the last two-and-a-half years.
“There’s hundreds of hours of effort going into this,” said Thomsen.
The program required a concerted effort between the 200th MP Command and several major parties. These included the U.S. Army Reserve Command (which is in command of all Army Reserve Soldiers), the U.S. Army Military Police School (responsible for training all military police Soldiers, regardless of component), the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (which must approve all training curriculum across the Army) and the 102nd Training Division (which provided instructors for this year’s pilot course).
“Working together with (all these organizations) is the key to success in developing senior leaders to take their Soldiers into war to fight,” said Sgt. 1st Class Donald Snow, one of the senior NCOs who has been working to develop this program since the beginning.
“This bridging strategy is an outstanding example of what happens when we combine efforts to meet our goals. In this case, the benefits will have a long-lasting effect on all of our Soldiers and future leaders,” said Snow.
Finally, after much effort and patient work, the courses began in August.
“There is a lot of excitement throughout the command for Soldiers wanting to go to school,” said Sgt. Maj. Willie Oden, the senior training advisor for the 200th MP Command.
“This has changed the playing field to open opportunities for several Soldiers … to be promoted in a more feasible fashion,” he said.
Without this program, Oden said many Soldiers who are passionate about serving as military police would be forced to face some difficult options: either change their career field to get promoted or leave the military entirely. This would leave a gaping hole in the MP community where mentorship and professional development are needed most.
“When you see Soldiers say, ‘I’m going to stay an MP because that’s where my heart is,’ it truly is. My passion for making sure these Soldiers are promoted was one of the catalysts (for this program) because I knew what it was like wanting to become an MP many years ago and to stay in the career field,” said Oden.
The new SLC courses going on now are specifically designed for their detention operations and special agent Soldiers. Each class is approximately a month long, split into two phases. More than 30 Soldiers are expected to graduate by the end of September between the two courses – currently going on at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
That’s a small chunk to help clear the backlog for now, but the plan is to conduct one class annually for each group the next two years until the program is funded long-term by the Army in 2021.
The 200th MP Command is currently funding the pilot, which took about $200,000 of their training budget to accomplish. This funding was specifically approved by Maj. Gen. Marion Garcia, the organization’s commanding general.
“She is literally putting her money where her mouth is,” said Master Sgt. Zachary Wriston, senior operations NCO for the command, indicating that senior leadership at the command truly valued this effort.
The 200th MP Command is working with the U.S. Army Reserve Command to fund it through the next two years.
“The money spent on these Soldiers for this course is a drop in the bucket compared to what we’re going to get out of the Soldiers that graduate from this course. These are the future leaders training our young enlisted Soldiers and our junior NCOs … The monetary investment in this is nothing compared to what we’re going to gain out of this long-term,” said Thomsen.
In order to understand the challenge they faced in organizing the program, it’s relevant to understand the military police career fields in the Army. There are actually three MP career specialties in the Army Reserve, often referred to as Bravo, Echo and Delta.
The law-enforcement and combat support elements of military police are known as Bravos (31B). They are the MPs who conduct law enforcement activities on military installations and support combat operations most closely on the battlefield.
Corrections and detention specialists are the Echos (31E). They typically conduct operations supporting enemy prisoner of war detention and assist in combined efforts supporting displaced civilians during war.
Criminal investigators – often referred to as special agents – are the Deltas (31D). They conduct intricate criminal investigations, process crime scenes and perform protective services for high-ranking officials.
Each of those military occupational specialties (MOS) has a very specific role. There is some overlap from one to another, but less so when it comes to senior leader responsibilities. Therefore, each MOS requires its own professional development course.
The problem for the Echos and Deltas – the MPs who secure prisoners and the special agents who solve Army-related crimes – was that their SLC courses were conducted by active duty. That meant two- or even three-month long classes with extremely limited seats. In fact, Echo Soldiers in the Army Reserve were allotted only one seat per year, even though 50 percent of all MPs who specialize in detention operation are in the U.S. Army Reserve.
“Detainee operations is our primary function (throughout) the 200th Military Police Command, and it is by far the biggest thing that we do for the Army worldwide,” said Thomsen.
In the past, staff sergeants who were qualified as Echos were permitted to retrain as Bravos to attend their SLC (there were a lot more SLC options for Bravos than for Echos), but a recent policy change has prohibited them from doing that anymore. This was a work-around solution that helped more than 100 Soldiers get promoted for several years, but that’s no longer an option. That’s why this pilot program is so important for the MP career field.
“Army Reserve wide, our careers and our training are just as important as everybody else. (This is) going to show that we’re getting the same training and we’re all going on the same path, whether you’re regular Army, National Guard or Army Reserve,” said Vetrano.
Once they complete the course, these NCOs finally have a chance of promotion to sergeant first class. This opens up leadership opportunities as platoon sergeants, detachment sergeants or even acting first sergeants. The goal is to also use graduates from this year’s pilot to instruct future SLC classes.
“This is something we need to continue to do. This is not a one-off thing. We’re going to keep doing this,” said Thomsen. “We’re doing it for our Soldiers.”