By Andrea Sutherland (Fort Carson)February 28, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Sgt. Lyle Warner held his finger in front of Stephanie Ruggles' face.
"Follow my finger with your eyes, ma'am," he said as the young woman struggled to focus.
"OK, OK," she said, stifling laughter. "I studied hard for this."
Warner, a military policeman with the 110th Military Police Company, 759th Military Police Battalion, continued the Standardized Field Sobriety Test stone-faced as Ruggles swayed back and forth.
A few feet away, Staff Sgt. Bethany Waters, 984th MP Company, 759th MP Bn., conducted a field sobriety test on another volunteer who had spent the afternoon drinking in the break room of the Fountain Police Department.
"This is a good refresher course," said Waters, a seven-year MP and former drill sergeant. "Sometimes you need to go back to basics."
Both Warner and Waters, along with 27 other MPs, participated in the Feb. 15 "wet lab," honing their field sobriety testing skills by conducting tests on volunteer drinkers. The lab was just one part of the six-week Sentinel Professional Policing Academy designed to help both new and experienced MPs with law enforcement basics.
"This gives us more confidence when facing people face-to-face," said Pfc. Victor Gurrero, 59th MP Company, 759th MP Bn. "We're learning something we can apply day-to-day on Fort Carson."
Gurrero, 21, said that prior to the academy, MPs received 14 days of classroom training and limited road training before being tasked with patrols.
"(Commanders) didn't feel like that was enough," he said, adding that learning from law enforcement professionals and additional mentorship has helped him build confidence.
"When I first enlisted, I wanted the combat job," he said. "I'm glad I chose the MPs. We have to be above the standard because we enforce the standard."
Since taking command in June, Lt. Col. Chris Heberer, commander, 759th MP Bn., and a team of noncommissioned officers have worked to establish the new baseline standards.
"We asked, 'how do we get the most competent, confident and ready-trained MP out there doing the best job possible?'" Heberer said. "We needed a hands-on, performance-oriented training to build the best 'supercop' possible."
In November, the first class of 130 MPs participated in the Sentinel Professional Policing Academy.
Since then, hundreds of MPs with the 759th MP Bn. have gone through the course.
"When my Soldier shows up on scene, they have to be ready," Heberer said. "We weren't doing anything like this before."
Broken into three phases, MPs studied policy and procedures; conducted situational training involving domestic violence and drunken drivers; certified with Tasers, batons, pepper spray and other defense tactics; and completed 10 days working alongside field officers -- all in an effort to establish the new baseline standard.
"This is to bridge the gap," said Master Sgt. Thomas Buettner, noncommissioned officer in charge, Sentinel Professional Policing Academy, 759th MP Bn. "Everybody who graduates from the MP school is theoretically an MP, but each post has its own certification process. … This is ours."
By putting Soldiers through the rigorous academy, Buettner hopes MPs become more proficient in their jobs.
"Ten years ago it was 'here's a gun, here's a pistol belt, go patrol the road,'" Buettner said. "We're learning the craft that we are expected to have when we came into the Army."
Buettner said with MPs focused on deployments in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, garrison law enforcement duties were left to civilians.
"We're still dealing with deployments," he said. "But now we're also focusing on MP tasks and the law and order mission."
For Heberer, the new academy fulfills one component of his vision for an "MP Triad" -- the coming together of the Criminal Investigative Division, Directorate of Emergency Services and the MPs.
"We have a unique opportunity at Fort Carson for intelligence sharing and collaboration if these entities come together," he said. "Units will be better served and the community will be safer if we're working together for the common good."
To ensure Soldiers receive the best training, academy organizers reached out to local law enforcement and nonprofits, including the Central Mountain Training Foundation.
"You don't make a lot of change being reactive to calls," said Ralph Maher, instructor for CMTF.
Maher, an 18-year police veteran with the Fountain Police Department, said he spent his nightshifts as a rookie cop conducting traffic stops and searching for obvious signs of drunken driving. Now, he's sharing his experience with the MPs.
"This was our first time teaching Fort Carson and our first time teaching this intensely," he said. "It benefits the Soldiers and the community. If I were a resident on Fort Carson, I'd be impressed."
Maher said many of the tests and skills MPs learn in the academy are transferable to civilian law enforcement agencies.
"It's a huge benefit to these Soldiers," he said. "I hope they walk out of here with confidence."
Heberer said he's already seen an attitude shift among his Soldiers as they complete the academy and earn their MP badges.
"They're taking pride in their work and building camaraderie," he said. "We are truly leading from the front. We are better trained, better resourced and better professionals."