CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq (AFPN) --
It beats patrolling the flightline and issuing traffic tickets on base.
Ask anyone assigned to the 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron's Detachment 6 here. They're one of just two Air Force teams doing what they're doing: training Iraqi policemen in the province of Salah ad Din to run a police station as a professional, task-oriented organization and provide good law and order.
Approximately 45 Airmen from 11 security forces organizations assigned to different
bases have converged at COB Speicher as Det. 6.
There's nothing like a good, new mission: the jolt of adrenaline coupled with the confidence of well-trained troops and the awareness that this is a task worth doing well. In this different kind of war, one way to fight is to teach the Iraqis to fight back, to fight for their own security and stability. Functional law enforcement is Ground Zero, one of the cornerstones of civilized life.
"I'm going crazy here," said Lt. Col. Steve Kauffmann the wiry (and fully charged) detachment commander who is deployed from the Pentagon. "It's a good crazy, though. It's a great mission, although we were 'fragged' to it," he said, borrowing a slang term for "fragmentary order," or an unexpected change to the schedule.
The Airmen were due to fill a more traditional billet at a forward-operating base in Mosul, Iraq, but were redirected to COB Speicher instead, taking on the in-lieu-of mission -- ordinarily tasked to the Army -- of training Iraqi police.
The Det. 6 Airmen are divided into teams, working at provincial headquarters, district stations, or smaller stations. The size varies, from small village kiosks manned by three or four men to large centers with staffs of 70 or 80. The Army's 97th Military Police Battalion (under the 82nd Airborne Division) oversees Det. 6, and Colonel Kauffmann observes "more teamwork than I've ever seen before. It's all about communication, coordination and cooperation."
Daily, convoys hit the roads, four humvees each, and so far so good. Det. 6 is currently awaiting validation from the Army that it can perform the mission by itself, but that too is coming soon. In the meantime, each convoy carries Airmen, Soldiers and an Iraqi police liaison officer and translator.
They're working with police stations in and around Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, and throughout the Salah ad Din province. It's a three-step process. The first involves locating the stations and assessing the capability. Second is training individual policemen to patrol and supervise and run a tight ship. Third is the final assessment, the end-of-course passing grade that allows the station to operate on its own.
Phase 1 is now in progress, complicated by the fact that some stations have been moved or destroyed, or they shut up shop for one reason or another. And new ones, yet unmapped, have turned up as well.
Phase 2 offers perhaps the biggest responsibility and challenge for Det. 6. "We'll assist them in developing their processes" in such areas as budget and logistics, personnel management, traffic and crowd control, reporting, weapons maintenance and discipline, and so on - how to keep a station running, Colonel Kauffmann said.
The third stage is up to the Iraqi police recruits. It's their future, and their responsibility.
The police-training is off beat, perhaps, but "Air Force people are uniquely suited to it," Colonel Kauffmann said. "We train our Airmen for the ability to make decisions based on knowledge, feeling, intuition. We cultivate that into our troops. That's how we train and operate every day.
"We're organized around the mission, not the war," he said. "It's our mission to be accountable at home too." The tactical and strategic skills are the same as home, with the addition of individual body armor and other protective gear. Add the inherent dangers of the combat environment outside the safety of the base, and the detachment is putting its skills to work like never before. "I think we're perfect" for the job, he said.
His group spent a month at Fort Lewis, Wash., for Army combat-skills training first.
"A hundred percent," the colonel said. "We've stuck together. No one missed a day."
There followed two weeks at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, of theater-specific training -- driving convoys, manning gun trucks, improvised explosive device training, land navigation, marksmanship, combat lifesaving, entry-control-point management and more.
Half of the detachment has already been deployed in support of the war on terrorism, and two-thirds have been "somewhere" doing the mission, somewhere other than their home base, the colonel said. The flight brings together "a tremendous amount of experience." His enthusiasm is contagious, his confidence well-founded. It suits him.
"I'm proud of 'em," he said of his young Airmen.
And Det. 6 couldn't be more ready to prove that the colonel's confidence is well-placed.
"We're stoked!" said Senior Airman Ivan Morscher who is deployed from the 96th Security Forces Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. "We've had the training. We're integrating with the Army. Taking some of the stress off. We can do this!"
They were, however, a bit surprised to find themselves at Speicher. "We didn't know we were coming here until four days before," said Senior Airman Meghan Evans, deployed from the 66th SFS at Hanscom AFB, Mass.
Learning the nature of their new mission was a wake-up call. On their initial patrol, "We had no idea what to expect," Airman Evans said. "We were the first eyes off base. I don't think we said two words the whole time."
Training kicked in, and common sense, and caution.
"You're not in Kansas anymore," said Airman 1st Class John Reed, also from the 66th SFS.
The awe might subside after a couple of missions but the eagerness and urgency remain intact.
"We're getting to do something other than base security," said Staff Sgt. Michael Cowan, deployed from the 43rd Security Forces Squadron at Pope AFB, N.C. "We're doing what we've been training to do for a long time -- the first chance we've had to do it."
"You can't have a stable nation without a police force," said Staff Sgt. Jamal Grier from the 72nd SFS at Tinker AFB, Okla. The actual teaching of fundamental tasks will take place at the stations, one on one, and the preferred method is hands-on. There is no textbook. Proficiency has one standard. "It's 'go' or 'no go,'" he said.
Airman 1st Class Ryan Fontenot, also with the 96th SFS, characterized this as "the 'year of the police in Iraq.' And we're training them. We're getting them up to par. It's an honorable job."
And an important one.
"I don't want my kids coming back here," he said.Comment on this story (comments may be published on Air Force Link)Click here to view the comments/letters page