FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Most people would agree that going into unknown territory is easier with a companion — that is why the U.S. Army Military Police School has designed a program called the U.S. Army MP Battle Buddy Assignment Initiative to send new active-duty Soldiers to their first duty stations with their initial entry training battle buddies.
“Reporting to a new assignment is stressful for even the most seasoned Soldiers — just imagine the stress and anxiety for a new graduate of one station unit training. It’s possibly the first time away from home, a new state, a new country,” USAMPS Regimental Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Shoaf said. “Instead of a Soldier setting out on this unknown adventure alone, they have a buddy or group of buddies, who have spent the better part of 19 weeks getting to know each other, shared hardships and overcome adversity to accomplish the goal of graduating basic and advanced individual training. They can look after one another and be accountable to one another as they navigate this transition.”
This initiative was implemented in the spring of last year under then-USAMPS Regimental Command Sgt. Maj. Shawn Klosterman. He said the first class able to use the program graduated in October of 2022, and since then, approximately 480 Soldiers have volunteered for the pilot program.
Klosterman is serving as the command sergeant major for Army Corrections Command at the Pentagon, after relinquishing responsibility of USAMPS to Shoaf in July. Klosterman said this program is still important to him because he believes it can make a positive impact on “our most valuable asset — our Soldiers.”
“It provides Soldiers with an ally to combat potential harmful behaviors or mental health concerns while building cohesive teams, since they have already went through adversity together and established trust,” Klosterman added.
He said the concept was first discussed back in 2021, to assist Soldiers with integrating into a new duty station.
“Working with the Human Resources Command and the Enlisted Personnel Management Division, over the next year, I was able to ensure the procedure was part of the IET assignments process,” Klosterman said.
One of the new MPs who recently volunteered for the initiative is Pvt. Jacob Bayless. Last month, he made his first permanent change of station from Fort Leonard Wood to Fort Cavazos, Texas, with his battle buddy, Pvt. Leonardo Pliego.
“Pvt. Pliego and I were bunkmates during one station unit training, and we spent a lot of time together during training and field exercises. He was my best friend throughout OSUT,” said Bayless, now attached to the 64th Military Police Company, 720th Military Police Battalion.
“PCSing with someone that you already know makes it much easier,” Bayless said. “Having Pvt. Pliego with me was great and comforting, because we would go to different places together to complete our in-process checklist during the weekdays, and on the weekends, it was good to have someone to hang out with.”
According to Bayless, his father helped him make the decision to volunteer for the program.
“About midway through OSUT, our drill sergeants asked if anyone was interested in using the Army’s Military Police Battle Buddy Assignment Initiative, so I spoke with my father about it, and my dad said, ‘it would be a great opportunity to have one of your buddies with you while you transition,’” Bayless said.
He is glad he decided to PCS with a battle buddy and said he hopes other new MP Soldiers getting ready to leave Fort Leonard Wood will take advantage of the program.
“A lot of the people you meet while you’re in basic training and OSUT go to different duty stations; some are in the National Guard or Reserve, so they go back home, and you may not see them again. So, if you and your battle have the opportunity to use the Army’s Military Police Battle Buddy Assignment Initiative, I highly recommend it. You can learn and grow personally and accomplish professional goals together,” Bayless said.
The Soldiers participating in this program go through OSUT with the 14th Military Police Brigade. According to the brigade’s Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Neikirk, they introduce the program to the trainees during week six of OSUT.
“They then have two weeks to submit a request form. The battalions collect the data and the brigade sends the request to the MP IET branch. The brigade normally gets the participants’ assignments a couple weeks later,” Neikirk said.
Neikirk said the battle-buddy program supports the Secretary of the Army objectives, the Army Chief of Staff’s People First Strategy and the Sgt. Maj. of the Army’s This Is My Squad program because it, “allows early development of one of the arms of the golden triangle.”
In the golden triangle concept, the Soldier is inside the triad of support surrounded by the three united points of fellow Soldiers, Army leadership and family members – the idea is that if the three points around the Soldier are communicating in an effective manor, then the Soldier benefits.
“Having one part of the golden triangle established gives leaders’ peace of mind that the Soldier has a buddy that they can confide in and rely on when times get difficult,” Neikirk said.
Then, once signed into their new unit, Klosterman pointed out the new leaders will instantly be establishing another two-thirds of the golden triangle.
According to Klosterman, the battle buddies are assigned to the same company for a minimum period of six months.
Klosterman said he wishes the program would have been around when he attended IET.
“My best friend and I joined the Army, attended basic and AIT together, then were split up for the rest of our careers,” Klosterman said. “Having someone I knew and trusted, especially going to a new duty station, would have help me integrate. Having someone there to lean on when I was struggling, lonely or just looking for help, would have been nice. Of course, I was able to make other friends, but if I would have had thoughts of suicide, or was in a crisis, I’m not sure I would have been able to talk to someone I didn’t know or trust right away.”
Shoaf said the program is receiving positive feedback from the field, with “a reduction in harmful behaviors and Soldiers who are ready and prepared to join their new units.”
(Editor’s note: Sgt. 1st Class Justin Geiger, a Public Affairs specialist with the 89th Military Police Brigade, contributed to this story)