FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - In the last hours of darkness, Jan. 27, soldiers from the 1st Platoon, 218th Military Police Company, 716th Military Police Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), assembled in their company area with their body armor, helmets and assault bags full of gear. The arms room issued them weapons. The area had a low murmur of activity as the military police prepared for an upcoming mission.
Leaders walked down straight lines of evenly spaced equipment checking their soldiers. Personnel with tactical radios ensured the radios worked. Outside, drivers attended to the small convoy that would transport the platoon to the training area.
When the time came for the group to move out, the MPs donned their gear and headed to link up with soldiers from the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade to perform a detainee operations training exercise, with the added wrinkle that this would also be an air assault mission.
"Air Assault is important not only for Afghanistan but anywhere that the Army is going to go," said 2nd Lt. Michael A. Graham, the platoon leader. "If you're using air assault tactics you're able to get on the objective quickly and you're able to surprise the enemy. You're able to get on and out. You can strike them like a bee sting."
Graham, a native of Centerville, Tenn., said that the reason the battalion selected his platoon to carry out the mission was because they were the ready platoon. He proudly stated they had the best PT scores, best weapon qualifications and the highest air assault percentages in the battalion.
The platoon, part of the 218th MP Company, which calls itself "the Legion," and platoon calls itself "Hastati," with platoon members saying it often. Having soldiers believe they are part of the best unit, training hard, with leaders providing close supervision keeps the platoon ready to undertake any mission and succeed.
"The Hastati were the elite group that whenever they marched into battle they went before the Legion to act as a shock troop," said Graham. "They were the most elite soldiers."
He went on to explain how the unit forges its new soldiers.
"They're immediately integrated into this family of warriors...it doesn't take long at all for them to adapt that into their own personal beliefs," said Graham. "It's just the fact that they're coming into something so well established that it just perpetuates itself."
After arriving in the training area, the troops marched to the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters that would insert them into the simulated battleground. They listened intently to the helicopter crews discuss the finer points of mounting and dismounting a helicopter.
The briefs centered on safety. The helicopter's spinning blades can injure or kill. Taking too long to get out of the helicopter in combat could needlessly make the helicopter a vulnerable target on the ground. Improper positioning on the ground could prevent the helicopter from properly defending itself.
Then like always, they practiced.
"We do alot of hands on before just to get ready so there's not any mix-up to what happens," said Sgt. Randall Williams, team leader for third squad. "Everybody knows their job. Everybody's proficient at it."
He also said that as MPs, they needed to stay flexible, because MP can stand for multipurpose - with MPs doing everything from route clearance to personal security details. So training and testing their soldiers is vital to the unit.
This mission had tested the platoon's ability to rapidly adapt to something unexpected.
"We had four working days to take a platoon that was training on active shooter and law enforcement operations and flip them around to not only doing detainee operations, but doing detainee operations based on a tactical platform revolving around air assault," said Graham.
He added, "They couldn't have been better."
After, a few rehearsals the MPs were smoothly flowing both on and off the Black Hawks. With the helicopter crews fully satisfied, the troops conducted final rehearsals for the detainee operations portion of the mission. In the distance from where the MP's were drilling, engines started roaring and rotors blades turning. When the time came, they swiftly boarded the helicopters and the Black Hawks lifted off.
A short ride on the helicopters, filled with sharp turns, turbulent bumps, and the constant din of the spinning rotors, transported the platoon towards the landing zone.
The flight crew signaled five minutes. Everyone mirrored him.
A few signals later, it was 30 seconds.
Then the Black Hawks gently touched down. Soldiers burst forth into swirling gusts from the rotor wash. Moments later the Black Hawks were in the air once more. Soldier ran to establish a perimeter. Others ran to the detainees, securing them, before bringing them to another group that searched and questioned them.
"My squad was tasked with the search the detainees," said Williams, a native of Knoxville, Tenn. "It's important to search detainees because you never know what they could have on them. They could have weapons. They could have classified information. They could have maps that outline where we are or where our allied forces could be."
One detainee who was "wounded" as part of the scenario received a medevac. The platoon arranged for ground forces to take away the other detainees. Finally, after a brief after action review, the Black Hawks returned and swiftly extracted the MPs.
"... The whole point of our mission today, which was to get in, process detainees, push them off the battlefield to allow freedom of movement for the offensive operation going on," said Graham "They got on the bird right, off the bird perfectly. They assaulted through, grabbed our detainees, brought them down, processed them in record time, [and] was able to find out some good intelligence on the detainees."
"It is 10 times better," said Williams comparing carrying out a realistic platoon training exercise to the fundamentals he learned in air assault school. He went on to say it was far more realistic and helped prepare him to execute an air assault mission in combat.
Once again drilling, and working as team allowed the platoon to succeed in its mission.
"If we were doing this in Afghanistan right now, we would have done it and the enemy would be talking about us tomorrow," said Graham.