FORT POLK, La. -- You may have noticed recently that the Department of the Army security guards that usually man the access control points at Fort Polk were replaced by military police officers.

The swap took place because of a regulation mandating annual certification training of all DA police and security guards. "Classes cover administrative topics like equal employment opportunity and operational security but we also have classes oriented toward our job duties like unarmed self defense, weapons range qualifications and pepper spray certification for those that need to requalify," said James Coker, chief of the DA security guards. "We also do first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and we have a new type of baton that we are training on, too."

The DA police and security guards fall under Fort Polk's Directorate of Emergency Services but are separate entities within the directorate. The security guards take care of the physical security of the installation.

These jobs used to be done by a contract company but were recently converted to civil service positions. "This provides more continuity for the security guards by making us a government entity versus contract employees," said Coker. Coker also said the training is an important tool that keeps the guards on top of their game.

"We may not perform all the tasks we are required to know on a daily basis. In those cases, those skills can become perishable. The training re-exposes them to those skills which enhances their effectiveness as guards," he said.

DA security guard Monica Martinez is a veteran who served as a military policewoman and a security guard with previous contract companies. She said the difference between the two situations is like night and day.

"When we were contract guards, we didn't have all this training. I've been a DA security guard since June and this is the fourth time I've been to the range. With (the contract company), we went about every six months," she said. "We are also now more up to date. We train all the time. Sometimes we even go through training scenarios while we're on the job." One thing Martinez isn't going to have to go through this year is the pepper spray qualification. Her qualification is still valid from the last time she qualified. "I'm lucky. That's a painful process," she said.

During the pepper spray qualification, guards are shot directly in the face with a stream of pepper spray. After five blinks of the eye to ensure they are fully exposed, they have to run a gauntlet of guards acting as "bad guys." They are required to perform a series of tasks including blocking low and high blows, attempting to subdue a suspect with the baton, preventing a suspect from taking their baton and, finally, taking a suspect down and handcuffing him. Only after those tasks are completed to the monitor's satisfaction are they allowed to go rinse the spray off their faces.

DA security guard James Green is a veteran as well. He said the training he received allows him to better protect the residents and workers on Fort Polk. "I believe everybody in law enforcement should have access to the level of training we are receiving," he said. "I believe it is a great learning process and I really enjoy it. If the people of Fort Polk knew about the level of training we go through, I think they would feel much safer."