Army Guard to retrain 2,000 troops as police

Missions after Sept. 11 have depleted MP ranks

October 29, 2003|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Army National Guard, its military police force stretched thin and its skills badly needed in Iraq and elsewhere, is preparing to retrain some 2,000 of its seldom-used artillery soldiers as MPs, Pentagon officials said.

About 1,200 soldiers from five National Guard artillery units are expected to be retrained between this fall and early spring, while plans are under way to eventually turn an additional 800 Guard artillerymen into MPs.

"We want to have them ready as soon as possible," said a senior Defense Department official, who outlined the program and requested anonymity. "We recognize a changing threat and an increased request for these troops both at home and abroad."

Of the Guard's 92 military police units, only nine have not been called to federal duty since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Some of the activated police units, such as elements of the Maryland National Guard's 115th Military Police Battalion from Parkville and Salisbury, have been called up more than once. Soldiers from the Maryland contingent are patrolling the perimeter of the Baghdad airport.

Twenty-one percent of the Army Guard, or about 73,500 soldiers, are serving in the United States or overseas, Guard officials said. But a little more than half of the Guard's MPs, about 7,870, are on federal duty, providing security from the Pentagon to bases in North Dakota and patrolling the streets in Iraq and the Balkans.

Although it generally takes nine weeks to train a military police officer, the plan calls for a truncated monthlong training regimen before the new police units head to Iraq or take up guard duties at domestic bases early next year, officials said.

Ten artillery companies have been alerted for the training program. They are from Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, Tennessee and Montana, and none has mobilized since the Sept. 11 attacks. Eventually they will be "reflagged" as permanent military police companies, officials said.

It is not immediately clear how the artillery units will react to their new role.

"I think you'll get some grumbling, and you'll get some resistance," said Ralph Peters, a retired Army intelligence officer and defense analyst. "Artillerymen are proud of what they do. They're called the king of battle."

Still, said Peters, the move makes sense. "It keeps the Guard at the cutting edge of relevance," he said. "We need MPs. The artillery units are unlikely to be called up."

The plan reflects the changing nature of the national security threat, in which peacekeeping duties, nation building and brush fire wars call for soldiers trained to guard facilities and patrol war-torn cities such as Baghdad more than fire a howitzer.

Some of these Guard artillerymen should receive mobilization orders within the next two weeks, when the Pentagon is expected to announce a broader call-up of 15,000 more Guard support soldiers, from military police and civil affairs specialists to logisticians and truck drivers, for duty in Iraq.

Maryland is not among the states that have received alert orders. The states where Guard support units have received such orders, meaning they should prepare to mobilize under federal service, include Illinois, California, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, officials said.

Besides the support troops, Pentagon officials said an additional 15,000 Army Guard combat troops will also be part of that mobilization order: the 30th Infantry Brigade from North Carolina, the 39th Infantry Brigade from Arkansas and the 81st Infantry Brigade from Washington state. Soldiers from the 30th have begun training for Iraq duty at Fort Stewart, Ga., and Fort Bragg, N.C.

Some of the 30,000 Guard combat and support troops will replace other reservists in Iraq during the coming months, while the remaining will take the place of active duty Army units, officials said. A total of 130,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq, while about 29,000 Army National Guard soldiers are either in Iraq or the region. In addition, there are an estimated 24,000 soldiers from Great Britain, Poland and other countries.

But the difficulty in attracting more non-American forces, coupled with overtaxed U.S. active-duty ground troops, means that the Pentagon has once again been forced to turn to reservists.

One of the Guard artillery units that will see some of its soldiers retrained as MPs is the 2nd Battalion of the 122nd Field Artillery from Sycamore, Ill., about 50 miles outside Chicago. Maj. Tim Franklin, a spokesman for the Illinois National Guard, said 248 soldiers, about one-third of the battalion's strength, have been alerted for training as military police.

"We are expecting they will get a mobilization order," said Franklin. Defense officials also said they have yet to decide on a training site, but one possible location is Camp Shelby, a National Guard facility in Mississippi.

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