QALAT SUKAR -- In the final days of the war, Marines manning a vehicle checkpoint near their base at Camp Fenway, Iraq stopped an ordinary ambulance along with other traffic. Upon closer inspection, it was quickly discovered that this vehicle, designed to save lives, was being used for anything but its intended purpose -- in the back they found a cache of weapons, ammunition, and stolen computer equipment.
The vehicle and its occupants was seized and detained, and the discovery set the stage for a follow-on humanitarian mission.
Marines of MEU Service Support Group 24, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) teamed up with members of the MEU command element and Battalion Landing Team 2nd Bn, 2nd Marines to assist members of Iraq's emergency services and help them bring peace and safety to their communities.
Military police from MSSG-24, along with Capt. Chris Bower, the MEU's force protection officer, trained Iraqi police officers and firefighters in police procedures at a town school. At the same time, members of the MSSG's operations and maintenance sections turned over the seized ambulance to town officials in the schoolyard.
The ambulance was originally stolen by paramilitary forces and used to loot villages and smuggle weapons before the Marines of BLT 2/2 confiscated it and turned it over to MSSG-24. The Russian-made vehicle was nabbed in need of repair, according to Sgt. James Smith, watch chief, MSSG-24. "We fixed the lights and sirens, gave it a tune up, and replaced the battery, starter and ignition with parts from a Humvee," he said. That day, the vehicle was turned over to town officials and taken to its new home at the local hospital.
To start the day's training events, the Combat Engineer Platoon, BLT 2/2 wired sand barriers at the school's entrance with detonation cord, and blew the solid structures. This enabled them to clear the roadway and allow their guests to arrive.
More than 45 Iraqi police officers and firefighters showed up for the police training, along with other volunteers who would also become police officers through follow-on training with seasoned members of law enforcement.
Among subjects discussed were fundamentals of military policing, organization and operations, plus patrolling, searches, and proper police procedures, said Bower.
Iraqi police wishing to help restore the emergency infrastructure to their communities face an uphill battle. "They don' t have a lot of equipment", said Bower. "Most of their vehicles were stolen or damaged, and their weapons were taken or destroyed."
Despite the challenges they faced, they showed a great deal of enthusiasm, Bower said. "They asked a ton of questions - about not only weapons, uniforms and pay, but also about how they can work together with the Marines and other agencies."
Volunteers and returning officers are coming back because they truly wish to help, and their reputations precede them. Police candidates are screened and vouched for by town officials who determine not only who is honest and competent, but also who will be accepted by the communities they will be policing.
"These guys are ready to work - they want to protect their cities," said Bower.