AD DIWANIYAH, Iraq -- The Iraqis were victimized and harassed for over 30 years by Saddam Hussein's evil regime, so restoring civil law and order after a conflict such as Operation Iraqi Freedom is not an easy task. Especially when supporters of that now shattered regime still wreak havoc on the newly liberated Iraqi people in the streets of their very own cities. Not to mention that the Iraqi police force was used as an evil tool against the people instead of a protecting force for the people.
The Army's 716th Military Police Battalion, alongside 1st Marine Division Marines and Iraqi police, has been keeping the streets of Iraq safe and secure so those walking on those streets can breathe the breath of freedom without fear.
On top of providing a military police presence in the cities, the 716th is securing and protecting all the main supply routes used by the 1st Force Service Support Group in south and central Iraq. Coming to 600 kilometers of MSR enforcement in all, says Army Lt. Col. Kim S. Orlando, 716th battalion commander.
In an arrangement not seen by many in the past, the battalion, instead of deploying with it's 101st Airborne Division, deployed with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
They were then assigned to the 1st FSSG. Because the FSSG was tasked with missions such as enemy prisoner of war handling and MSR regulation and enforcement missions but lacked the Marine MP assets, higher officials decided the Marine Corps needed a combat support MP battalion, and the 716th stepped up to the challenge.
The Fort Campbell, Ky., based battalion packed their bags and arrived to support the 1st FSSG. But on top of the five Army combat support MP companies that deployed, they were also supplemented with two reserve Marine MP companies.
"Bringing it all together as a team has been a positive challenge," Orlando said.
With around a 1,200-soldier and Marine battalion, "we have a lot of capabilities," said Orlando.
The battalion's fleet of over 400 armored HMMWV's is battle fitted with heavy machine guns and grenade launchers to provide support for just about any mission. The battalion is also trained for civil disturbance response, equipped with riot gear. For night patrols the MP's carry a large infrared spotlight that virtually diminishes every shadow, but only those with night vision goggles on can see.
On top of providing convoy security, the battalion successful handled and processed over 1,400 EPW's for the 1st FSSG with "a lot of compassion and professionalism," Orlando said.
Now that the war-fighting phase is coming to close and coalition forces are focusing efforts on the next phase of security and stabilization, 716th isn't packing up their bags yet, rather the workload has increased over their shoulders.
"We're working just as hard or harder now than during combat operations," Orlando said.
"We're now transitioning to law and enforcement," the 42-year-old Nashville, Tenn. native said. "Expanding our law enforcement operations adds stability for the FSSG to operate safely in this phase and allows the Iraqi cities to get their own police forces up and running," he said.
Once much of the fighting ceased, coalition forces found that the Iraqi police infrastructure was almost entirely diminished because the police force was made primarily of Baath party members who were killed or are now in hiding. Because of the corruption of the police force within Iraq, officials are now in the process of building new police units the Iraqi people can turn to instead of fear.
"Each town is starting nearly at ground zero," Orlando explained. Some police departments have no vehicles; others, no uniforms; others, no weapons; and others, very little personnel, he said.
The Iraqi police force is making a new name for itself in the local population.
"We are giving them old Coast Guard uniforms with orange vests to change their look," said Army 1st Lt. John R. Braun Jr., future plans officer by day and 3/5-liaison officer by night for 716th MP Battalion. "They're winning back their credibility with the people by acting like law enforcement officers vice before."
"We're here to work with the Iraqi police in each city to help them stand back up again," Orlando said. "That's the overall goal."
On top of working with the still forming Iraqi police forces, the MP battalion is teaming up with various Marine units to secure cities and continue to keep the streets safe.
"716th is working hand-in-hand with Marine task force commanders who have the responsibility for each respected city in order to provide professional law enforcement support to the area," says Orlando. Those cities include An Nasiryah, Al Kut and Ad Diwaniyah.
In Ad Diwaniyah, for example, the soldiers work with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment Marines to safeguard the civilians and coalition forces operating within the city limits by setting up mobile traffic control points, mobile patrols and sudden response forces. On one recent night they inspected 132 vehicles that were out beyond the set curfew and confiscated one AK-47 machine gun with ammo as well as detaining a drunk who was found to have grenades on him, according to Braun.
Ever since the MP's have begun their nightly patrols they have seen crime on the downslide. They've gone from seeing looting, sporadic shootings and finding large amounts of weapons each night to virtually nothing, Braun said.
"Crime is drastically decreasing around Ad Diwaniyah," he says. "The people are happy we're out there. They feel more secure."