Green Tabs for Combat MPs

By Bell, Raymond E., Jr. | Army, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Green Tabs for Combat MPs


Bell, Raymond E., Jr., Army


ALMOST EVERY TIME ONE PICKS UP A newspaper or magazine that has an article about Iraq or Afghanistan, the words "military police" (MP) jump out of the printed page. Casualty lists with the names of military police killed in action are appearing too frequently. Media photographers seem to favor MPs conducting armed searches as subjects. Proposals and entreaties for more military police are popping up in analyses of the current and future U.S. Army force structure. News of MP units called to active duty from the Army National Guard and Army Reserve frequents hometown releases and makes national publications.

But if the military police are getting increased publicity, their role in today's combat environment is hardly touched upon. That they are engaged in a fighting mode is glossed over. The MP image is still wrapped around the mission of law and order. Military policemen and women pass out traffic tickets, help dependent children of military personnel across the street and check identification cards. The appearance of a military policeman at some event automatically connotes the relatively benign role of monitoring civil order or directing traffic.

It is now time, however, to recognize that the military police of the U.S. Army are also combat soldiers. It is time for MP unit leaders engaged in combat operations, those in military police brigades, MP battalions, division MP companies and combat support companies, to put on the green shoulder tabs (or green cloth loops) that denote commanders of combat formations. Today's military police are no longer engaged solely in the rear areas. They are as much in the midst of battle as any combatant. They are equipped to fight as infantry. In fact they are even more heavily armed since their basic weapons are a rifle and a pistol. They are also more mobile than foot soldiers with their up-armored Humvees and armored security vehicles. These vehicles deploy with machine guns and Mark 19 automatic grenade launchers. The firepower of a military police combat support company lacks only mortars to approach that of a light infantry battalion.

It comes as no surprise to the MP that his or her time in the crucible of battle has arrived. Military police know from the time they begin their advanced training that their duties will not be confined to placing handcuffs on recalcitrants' wrists or filling out incident reports. They are taught to possess the same combat skills as the infantry soldier and, to be sure, more is required of them than the rifle-equipped soldier. In addition to the rifle, they must master the pistol, not an easy task to accomplish.

The need for a greater military police presence in combat operations is also not new. As long ago as the invasion of Panama in 1989 when nonlinear combat began to become the norm rather than the exception, it was recognized that military police were a versatile force of choice, even when battle was in progress. The situation in Haiti in 1994 really accentuated the importance of a heightened MP presence within the U.S. Army. It is a matter of record that then President Clinton called for more military police to be sent to the country when the situation began to deteriorate. The lessons learned in these former involvements bore real fruit when the United States entered the fray in Bosnia. There, military police operated effectively side by side with infantry and armored troops in peace-enforcing efforts.

The time is long past, however, when steps should have been taken to increase the number of active duty military police. Because the full capability of MPs is still not properly used, there has been much talk and little action to increase corps strength.

The burden of employment has thus fallen more and more on the National Guard and Army Reserve military police.

It is argued that more MPs are needed, but it is the mind-set that must be changed first. Commanders at all levels must recognize military police as combat soldiers as they go about employing them in the combat roje for which they are already trained.

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