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Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

Reservists refreshed for war

March 30, 2003

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— Like other Army reservists in his military police unit, Staff Sgt. Jeff Chubb is eager to do his job, probably guarding Iraqi prisoners of war.

"I knew it was coming and was ready for it, but a little disappointed we weren't there. We want to get it over with," said Chubb, 34, an Omaha, Neb., police officer. "We're ready to go. Saddam watch out, here we come."

Fort Riley is among 15 Army posts where National Guard and Army Reserve troops can rapidly deploy after being called up for active duty.

About 5,000 reservists have been ordered to Fort Riley and 1,700 already have shipped out since the first of the year, said post spokeswoman Christie Vanover.

She said about 2,500 reservists on post await overseas deployment, housed in barracks, a hanger at the airfield and a gymnasium.

The Department of Defense says more than 216,000 reservists have been mobilized, of which about 150,000 are National Guard or Army Reserve troops.

Next stop Iraq

Nobody will say for sure where they will go, but most in the Omaha-based 530th Military Police Battalion's headquarters company assume the next stop will be Iraq or somewhere in that area.

Half of the company's 150 soldiers left jobs as city police officers, county deputies or state troopers, said Lt. Col. Steve Novotny, 46, of Papillion, Neb., the battalion commander.

Like many, Sgt. Kathy Towler, 31, a deputy sheriff from Kearney, Neb., is somewhat anxious.

"I'm just a little nervous because we're not sure what we're going to be doing," she said. "It's a good anxiety. It gives you the edge and helps you stay focused."

Spc. Amanda O'Kelley isn't a police officer but hopes to be one. Her grandfather was in World War II; an uncle was in the Persian Gulf War.

"I'd like to be the first female in our family deployed to war," said O'Kelley, 23, of Columbus, Neb.

Refresher course

Since arriving in January, the 530th's troops have gone through hours of refresher courses to hone their skills. Like all reservists, they train one weekend each month plus two weeks a year.

"We aren't reteaching them, we are refreshing them," Vanover said.

She said soldiers stayed at Fort Riley from two weeks to two months, depending on how long it takes to get ready. They could be on active duty up to two years from the time they're called up.

There are classes and exercises on such things as biological and chemical weapons, how to don a gas mask quickly, customs and culture of where they're going, first aid, marksmanship and how to identify friendly troops.

Also, there's the paperwork. Medical records and personnel files are updated and various financial and legal matters, including having a will, are addressed.

Some members of the 530th were busy recently taking control of a village -- actually eight old Fort Riley barracks with faded paint and pitch-dark interiors.

About 50 soldiers in full battle gear crawled on the ground and ducked from tree to tree as they moved closer to the buildings. An additional 20 acted the role of the enemy.

Soldiers saw an "enemy" come out waving a piece of white paper, as if surrendering. They moved closer and suddenly another "enemy" sniped them from the building.

Afterward, they heard a critique from Master Sgt. William Luft, 35, a Grand Island, Neb., police officer.

"This is designed to make you think on your feet. Be aware of your surroundings," Luft said. "We want all of you to come home."

Above and beyond

While the primary mission is guarding POWs, they also could end up involved in other situations, including urban warfare.

"There is always the potential they will have to do this," said Capt. Daren Hampton, 34, of Omaha, a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent.

There are obvious changes from police officer to military police -- Army discipline, living and working as a large group and 12-hour days of training and classes. But it's still a lot of police work.

"Police work is police work. It's fundamentally pretty much the same," said Staff Sgt. Donald Trimble, 31, of Omaha, a Nebraska state trooper.

Novotny, the battalion commander, is an Omaha police officer who watched the exercise. He said once the unit was deployed, other MP companies from around the country would be assigned to it.

"We do this on our regular jobs. Our police officers raid buildings and interact with prisoners," he said. "It's very similar to our civilian jobs. We just wear different uniforms."

The biggest hardship is leaving family and friends. For Spc. Steven Schwarz, who works on his family's cattle ranch near Archer, that includes his sorrel quarterhorse.

Most soldiers offered variations of the same reasons for wanting to leave: duty, honor and country.

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