BAGHDAD - "This time last year, I was at prom," the young private revealed with a smile, sitting on a porch amid the sand and desert heat.
Pvt. Andrew Bowles is one of 17 new military policemen who arrived in Iraq mid-February, fresh out of initial entry training, to join 501st Military Police Company, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Armored Division.While in basic, he and the other privates learned the broad range of skills to be Soldiers. At advanced individual training, they learned the broad range of skills to be military policemen. Since arriving here, they have been training and preparing to become a vital part of 501st."The purpose of [our] training was to catch them up with the rest of the MPs, so when we go on missions, they have the same training and are just as mission-capable as the rest of us," said Sgt. Trip Linton, a squad leader with 501st and native of Savannah, Ga. Linton, along with other unit leaders, was responsible for continuing training that began in Germany.After arriving in Germany from IET, the privates hit the ground running and were there only long enough to be tested on a few basic tasks, and to gain some knowledge of Iraqi culture and history."I had some of the best trainers, [who] told us how to prepare for [deployment], how to keep our head down, and how to save our buddies," said Pfc. Nicholas Caskins, a military policeman and driver from Fort Lewis, Wash.Caskins said the training resumed in Iraq to ensure they retained the tasks learned in basic and Germany and could perform them on the battlefield."It's the real test before we actually get on the road, to make sure we go home safely," said Caskins.Their primary mission is to act as escorts, but they have a multi-purpose job and at any time can be tasked to do something else."We've been doing a lot of classes and learning how the real Army works," said Bowles, a gunner and native of Ferdinandina Beach, Fla.The privates agree modern operations and urban terrain exercises were the most realistic and fun training they have experienced. It permitted them to kick down doors, search houses and clear rooms in scenarios with a goal to accomplish the mission without fatalities.Although that was their favorite training, the most advantageous training pertaining to their current mission in Iraq was convoy security. The Soldiers had a convoy of humvees, each of which contained three privates: a gunner, a truck commander and a driver.Each position plays a vital role in a convoy, and the privates came together to perform them as they encountered several sticky situations such as simulated improvised explosive devices, route clearance or hasty checkpoints."We scanned sectors, practiced driving and tried not to get lost," said Pvt. Clinton Bryant, a military policeman and gunner from Fallon, Nev.It was overwhelming as a gunner, said Bowles. There were so many possibilities and things of which to be wary. The gunners learned how to successfully scan their sectors by remaining vigilant and looking diligently at both roads and crosswalks."Our team leaders [warned us] there would be trash everywhere, open space, a lot of rooftops, and the [risks involved] when slowing down at checkpoints," said Bowles.Other essential skills were taught at the combat lifesaver course. Pvt. Gabriel Fain said he was involved in high school programs that permitted him to shadow and train at crime scenes and accidents, so he was already familiar with some essential lifesaving techniques."When I was younger, I mean...a year younger than I am now," said Fain, a 19-year-old military policeman and driver with the 501st MP Co., "there was a highway accident. An old lady hit the side of the road and the car flipped over on a piece of rebar and [the rebar] went through her shoulder." Fain was expected to ask her questions and ensure the woman remained alert.Thus far, squad leaders say they are impressed with these new privates. It will take time for them to become fully immersed into the MP lifestyle, but one squad leader has high hopes."They're doing well with the limited experience they have, and they catch on pretty quick," said Linton.Some of the Soldiers admitted feeling the training was redundant at times and couldn't wait to get on a mission, but they also acknowledged its importance to returning home safely.
"I'm prepared," said Caskins; "just a little nervous."