The U.S. Army has joined the Marine Corps in the south-central Iraqi city of Najaf to provide two things every city needs to run peacefully: law and order.
First Battalion, 7th Marines and the Army's 442nd Military Police Company have formed the Najaf Police Academy to teach Iraqi police officers American methods of law enforcement.
Their ultimate goal is to establish a self-sufficient police force capable of earning the trust and respect of the citizens of Najaf. That's no easy task in a nation where, for the last three decades, police officers have been the object of fear and mistrust, said 1st Lt. kip Cornbrooks, 1/7's battalion training officer.
"They don't trust the police," Cornbrooks said. "The people see the police as an extension of Saddam's regime. We're trying to build trust. We're teaching the police how police should act...keep them doing the right thing."
With the Army's 442nd MP Co., part of the New York National Guard, 1/7 has an excellent group of instructors. Most of the unit's soldiers are officers with the New York Police Department.
"When people hear their police officers are being trained by the NYPD, they are more accepting of their new police force," Cornbrooks said.
The Marines and the Army are looking to build a force of about 800 officers for the holy city of some 800,000. About 180 hopefuls at a time show up for a two-day training cycle. Some applicants are capable Najaf residents interested in enforcing the law in their newly-free city. Most, however, come from Najaf's three independent law-enforcement agencies, the Mayor's Guard, the traffic police and the regular beat police.
Through the Najaf Police Academy, the Marines and Army are molding the three entities into one police force, Cornbrooks said. The training is not a free ride for Najaf's police officers. From 60 to 80 cadets fail to complete the course each training cycle. Their only option is to reapply to the force the next time it accepts applications. In other words, if they don't complete the Marine/Army training, they're unemployed.
The training day begins with roll call and physical training. That's where the Marines come in. They put the cadets through the Marine Corps "daily seven" exercises, including favorites such as side-straddle hops, alternating toe touches and Marine Corps push-ups. After that, it's time for the run.
"If they're going to be dropped, the run is usually where it happens," Cornbrooks said. He explained that, with cadets ranging in age from 21 to 71, pure speed and endurance is not the determining factor whether someone earns the right to serve with the Najaf Police Department.
"It's all about heart," said Staff Sgt. Hiwathia Clark, 1/7's communications platoon sergeant. "If they don't give up on themselves, they're good to go. If they quit now, they're going to quit out there when they're needed.
After PT and a welcome water break, the prospective policemen begin a full day of law-enforcement classes. Subjects include use of force, police reporting, vehicle and weapons searches, interpersonal communication skills and first aid.
Army Sgt. Howard L. Henderson, an MP with the 442nd and an NYPD officer in civilian life, is a use-of-force instructor at the Najaf Police Academy. He said the Iraqi cadets are very willing to learn new methods of law enforcement.
"It's definitely a challenge, but everybody wants to be here and everybody wants to learn," Henderson said. "The key to teaching them is having a good translator, which fortunately I have."
The Najaf Police Academy is the first phase of an American military plan to retrain the city's police officers and, ultimately, to return the responsibility of law-enforcement and training new officers to the Iraqis themselves, according to Army 1st Lt. Anthony Green, police academy director and a member of the Suffolk County, NY, police department.
"We've done all this in a very short time frame," said Green, explaining that he and his instructors devised the curriculum, set up the academy and had it up and running in a matter of only a few days. "That's because our instructors have a great amount of street smarts in addition to their MP smarts. We pulled all our experience together to make a program that will reduce public fear and restore confidence in their police officers. The community is already noticing the difference."
Once each class finishes its training cycle, cadets attend a graduation ceremony declaring them members of the new Najaf Police Department. Lieutenant Col. Christopher C. Conlin, commanding officer, 1/7, attended the May 12 ceremony to congratulate that cycle's 100 graduates on their accomplishment.
"You've committed yourselves to the future of law enforcement in Najaf and the future of freedom in Iraq," Conlin said. "We are brothers together, and together we will build a free Iraq."