(Photo by Ashley Ward)
For the past five weeks, the battalion of southeast Missouri Citizen-Soldiers has been conducting mobilization training at Camp Shelby, Miss. in anticipation of their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
"The training's been really good," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Russell. "We've got a lot of trainers that just came back from theater and they've been giving us new information, pretty much as fresh as you can get. It gives us a little leg up."
And Soldiers are making a point to put the trainers' advice to good use.
During exercises designed to simulate situations troops may encounter while overseas, Soldiers must deal with a host of security issues, communications with local leaders and even interview requests from international media organizations.
Aside from the hands-on experience the training provides, one of the biggest benefits for Soldiers is the opportunity to interact with the group that plays the role of the Afghan Border Police.
"Most of the people that we're working with are actually from Afghanistan," said Maj. Adam Reichart. "That allows us to see some of the culture, use an interpreter and also get into working as a team."
Reichart, who will be deploying for the third time, knows how important it is to build a foundation of successful teamwork before heading overseas, especially considering that many of the Soldiers were unfamiliar with military police tasks before beginning their training.
"I've got human resource specialists, I've got unit supply specialists, I've got motor transport operators--we're meshing these different occupational specialties together to be a security force and not once have they blinked," said Capt. Lance Dell, commander of the 205th Military Police Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment. "They've accepted it with great attitudes from Camp Clark all the way to here, so I can't say enough about the Soldiers and how well they've handled it."
Spc. Carl Hart, who typically serves as a wheeled vehicle mechanic, said that although the training has prepared him well for the mission ahead, it initially felt like stepping into a whole new world.
"Coming from a mechanic field into a military police field is a big change," said Hart. "Instead of staying back and turning a wrench the whole time or sitting on the computers, I'm actually out there running around through the woods or sticks or mountains or wherever they need us to go. So yeah, it's been a big change."
Despite the steep learning curve, however, the troops have risen to the challenge and the unit will deploy from Camp Shelby with 100 percent of the Soldiers it started with, said Lt. Col. Aaron Stover, commander of the battalion.
"I have confidence in each Soldier's abilities," said Stover. "It's the quality of Soldiers we have in the unit and in the Missouri National Guard. We have set a new standard for units mobilizing through Camp Shelby."
Stover also was quick to remind the Soldiers that despite the difficult days ahead, the 205th Military Police Battalion will be taking part in history with each day it spends in Afghanistan.
"We are part of the greatest nation in the world. We are helping the Afghani people to be able to live a life that most Americans take for granted, the ability to provide for their family and to feel safe doing so," said Stover. "So as we go our separate ways in theater, keep in mind the reason why we are there--not only to stop terrorists from future attacks against the United States, but also we are there to provide a safe environment for the Afghan people to raise and educate their children as we do in the America."
After completing mobilization training at Camp Shelby, the 205th Military Police Battalion will deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. While deployed, the group will work with the Afghan National Police and serve as a police mentor team with four military police companies and one Air Force flight under its command. The battalion is expected to complete its deployment in March 2011.
For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please call 1-888-GoGuard or visit www.moguard.com.