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American Forces Press Service

Military Police in Uzbekistan Provide Force Protection

By Staff Sgt. Johnny A. Thompson, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

KARSHI-KHANABAD, Uzbekistan, Jan. 26, 2004 - Soldiers can't take peace and quiet for granted.

"Nobody ever thought 9/11 would happen, but here we are (in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iraq) nearly three years later as a result of it, so every day you have to be ready for anything. You have to be proactive," said Maj. Thomas Cooney, 342nd Military Police Detachment deputy provost marshal and operations officer. "There is no room for complacency over here."

Those are the words that a steely Cooney said he emphasizes to the soldiers of the 342nd MP Detachment and the 290th MP Company every day before they take on the task of operating as Camp Stronghold Freedom, Karshi-Khanabad Air Base's first line of force protection.

"Our mission is to operate the entry-control points, conduct law-and-order patrols, conduct military police and traffic accident investigations, and provide force protection," said Cooney. "Our job is pretty much the same as (that of) a community police department back home."

Soldiers from the 342nd -- part of the 94th Regional Readiness Command -- and the 290th -- a Maryland National Guard unit -- make up nearly a 100-man protection force. And though they may operate similarly to a police department back home, the one snag in Cooney's comparison is that a police department back home doesn't have two separate entities combined to do one job.

"We started as the superior command when we first arrived, but we both had the same mission, so it made sense to join and become one force," said Cooney. Before their merger, the units split the duty of operating the entry-control points and other force-protection measures.

The 290th MP Company was designated as the base's quick-reaction force, while the 342nd MP Detachment handles the military investigations, traffic details and law-and-order patrols.

Having two law enforcement agencies on base would seem to create an antipathy, with one unit getting the so-called "good duties," but soldiers say the merger enabled the MPs to forge a great working relationship and has afforded senior officers the time to brainstorm on security improvements.

"The whole job is about people, about service," said Sgt. Kevin Haj, 342nd MP Detachment. "We get along great, because both units understand that. We share duties without missing a beat."

Haj added that another benefit to having two units available negates the need to train non-MP soldiers on how to conduct force protection. So the mission never skips a beat.

"Having two forces allows us to fulfill all tasks given to us, and allows (leaders) to constantly check our security for weaknesses," said Cooney. "Without the extra bodies, something would have to drop off."

Cooney added that having two forces also helps to keep soldiers from getting burned out. "We don't get much time off, but that's the life of an MP," said Spc. Adam Canterbery, of the 290th MP Co. "So having two units is a plus, because it helps relieve some of the burden off each other."

Though Karshi-Khanabad's probability of encountering enemy forces is less likely than the other security forces in the combined joint operations area, these MPs are no less vigilant in their job approach.

"We weren't asked, 'Where do you want to serve - Iraq, Afghanistan or Uzbekistan?' Because if we were, I'm pretty sure my soldiers would have chosen Iraq or Afghanistan," said Cooney. "But (there are) people out there always thinking of ways to hurt us, so while the job here no doubt gets boring at times, we have to stay ready. We don't have the same problems as Afghanistan and Iraq, but that is a plus and minus within itself."

The soldiers keep their edge by heeding Cooney's mantra of readiness. "We react to everything like it's a potential danger," said Cpl. William Fitzgerald, of the 342nd MP Detachment. "We are a combat support unit, so while I'm sure a lot of us would like to be out there fighting the battle, the truth is someone has to be in the rear to maintain law and order, and that someone is us."

(Army Staff Sgt. Johnny A. Thompson, USA is assigned to the 4th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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