FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — In a first for the U.S. Marine Corps Police Academy here, a majority of the 17 service members and civilians graduating from the Basic Police Officer Course on April 5 in Lincoln Hall Auditorium were not Marines, but Air Force personnel.
Visiting Fort Leonard Wood from the Pentagon to speak at the graduation ceremony and help mark the occasion was Randy Smith — assistant deputy commandant (Security) for Plans, Policies and Operations, and director of the Security Division for the Marine Corps — and Timothy Gerald — deputy director of Security Forces and deputy chief of staff for Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection for the Air Force.
Gerald said the Air Force first approached the Marines about the possibility of training a portion of their civilian police officers and active-duty security forces Airmen not long after the academy was moved here from Marine Corps Air Facility Miramar, California, in late 2020. The training change is part of what the Air Force is calling Defender NEXT 32, or DEFNEXT32, an enterprise-wide initiative that will refocus air base ground defense competencies.
“We briefed the (Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown Jr.) back in June of last year, and we came out of that with 32 recommendations,” Gerald said. “One of those recommendations was to enhance and strengthen our law enforcement capability across the enterprise.”
Gerald said the Air Force looked at having their own in-house police academy, but it was cost prohibitive — since their inception in 2011, Air Force civilian police officers have trained at the Veterans Administration Law Enforcement Training Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. For the foreseeable future, while a backlog of officers get training that was made more difficult during the pandemic, they will be sent either here or to Little Rock.
“This is the beginning of what I hope is a long and fruitful relationship,” Gerald said. “And to the graduates, congratulations on making it to the finish line.”
Smith called the level of knowledge the graduates are taking from the course, “immeasurable.”
“They’re going into a great career field, and they’re going in well prepared to execute everything that career field requires of them,” Smith said. “The course they just completed was no easy feat, and was made challenging in all the right areas to ensure they’re ready to respond to emergencies and threats aboard our bases and stations across the globe. You’re to be commended for the amount of effort you put into this course. One of the phrases we use in the naval service for doing well is ‘Bravo Zulu,’ so class 04-22, Bravo Zulu to you.”
The entry-level law enforcement training provided by the Marines here meets all of the Department of Defense mandatory elements, Gerald said. In addition, the program offers graduates what’s called DOD Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, certification.
The DOD POST Commission is the accrediting body for all federal law enforcement basic training courses in the DOD. To achieve accreditation, agencies submit to an independent review of their academy, policies and programs to ensure compliance with DOD Instruction 5525.15, Law Enforcement Standards and Training in the Department of Defense. The reviewers look over the core curriculum, instructor qualifications, training development and delivery, and training management. Some of the federal agencies with POST accreditation include the Defense Health Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Defense Logistics Agency, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, among others.
Having this accreditation means a course’s core law enforcement curriculum is aligned to international standards and best practices. For graduates, it also means moving between accredited agencies is easier.
“What that means for you is when you go back home, you’re going to be the tip of the spear in this effort, and the work that you do when you return home is going to set the standard for law enforcement across the entire enterprise,” Gerald said.
This joint-service, or “purple” arrangement, has many other benefits as well, Gerald said, including cost savings for the DOD.
“It was really the entire package,” he said, of what attracted the Air Force to the MCPA. “They’re very flexible in making sure they can meet our needs. Everything is in one location — they have a dining facility; they have classrooms; they have barracks, so we didn’t have to house anyone off the installation in hotels. The trainings are very similar, and then the Marine Corps made some adjustments for us to make sure they were covering some Air Force-specific things. I’m very impressed with everything the Marine Corps has done for us, and I’m very impressed with Fort Leonard Wood — they’ve been very gracious hosts. We’re ecstatic about it, and we look forward to a long relationship.”
According to Marine Capt. Logan Boomgarden, deputy director of the MCPA, the BPOC is 60 training days long — about 13 to 14 weeks, depending on federal holidays — and officers are trained in areas such as use of force, interpersonal communication, officer survival and mental conditioning, firearms, defensive tactics, baton or night stick, handcuffing, criminal and federal law, the judicial system, response to alarms, domestic disturbances and violence, child abuse and neglect, sexual assaults, automobile crashes, traffic stops, and active-shooter incidents.
One of the Air Force graduates, Troy Daniels, works at what’s called Plant 42, an aircraft manufacturing facility in Palmdale, California, near Edwards Air Force Base. Before that, Daniels was with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for four years. He said he’s happy he made the switch to federal law enforcement.
“Based on my prior experience in law enforcement, I felt like this course really prepares you well for things on the federal side — which is a completely different, broader world with a different set of laws,” he said. “This course will make a cop out of you, even if you have no prior experience. The instructors are very good; they shared a lot of their experiences and included them into the training.”
Another graduate, Brett Ferguson, will now be returning to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona. Like Daniels, he also has prior law enforcement experience — he was a Master at Arms in the Navy for 10 years. Ferguson said he appreciated that the information they’re trained on gets updates.
“Law enforcement changes over time, as far as policies that are developed — tactics change, the equipment, the technology — and I was really happy to see that reflected in the training,” Ferguson said.
Besides the BPOC, Boomgarden said other courses taught at the academy include the Field Training Officer Course, the Desk Sergeant/Patrol Sergeant Course, the Watch Commander Course, the Basic Special Reaction Team Course, and the Basic Special Reaction Team Marksman/Observer (Sniper) Course.
More information on the MCPA is available on the Marine Corps Detachment at Fort Leonard Wood website.