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Marines pin hopes on new Iraqi police

14 Apr 2004 | Lance Cpl. Macario P. Mora Jr.

They're a little rough around the edges.  They're still learning how to walk, talk and perform as the law of the land. 

For Marines here, though, the newly-graduated police force in this western Iraqi city is the hope for a better future here.

"The fate of this nation depends on its ability to take care of itself," said 1st Lt. Sean M. Gavigan, officer-in-charge of the Al Qaim Police Academy.  "Its security forces need to know how to defend (Iraq) against those who oppose it.  If not, we will fail."

A class of nearly 40 Iraqi police graduated April 17th from the academy's first class after completing a 21-day course.

The academy is the first of its kind in the Al Qaim area, which covers a large portion of the western border of Iraq. 

Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment's military police detachment were tasked to train the policemen.  Eight instructors were picked to teach procedures needed to police the streets, which is no small task on this border town.

Enemy fighters trying to take control killed nearly 640 Iraqi policemen during the past year, according to Gavigan, who hails from New City, N.Y.

"These guys are public enemy number one," Gavigan said.  "Without the proper tools and knowledge they're going to be slaughtered.  We all want to go home, but that's not going to happen unless these guys can take care of themselves."

The three-week learning curve for the new policemen was enormous, according to Cpl. Michael A. Melfi, an instructor and from Columbus, Ohio.

"These guys couldn't even use their weapons when we first started with them," Melfi said.  "They have come a long way in a short amount of time."

Being the first class, Marine and their students forged through hardships and difficulties with establishing the academy and training course.

"One of the major difficulties is the language barrier," said Gunnery Sgt. Jamie P. Roberto, chief instructor from Cincinnati.  "So much is lost in translation.  But, they're giving 'max' effort and my instructors are doing a hell of a job.  So, it'll happen, eventually."

The class started with 50 students and slowly shrunk down to 40.  Marines training the police were tough on their students.  Some served previously in Iraqi law enforcement.  Still, others didn't make it.

"These guys were already policemen," Roberto explained, "If they weren't able to hack it, well... then they were kicked out."

According to Melfi, the process was difficult at times.

"We weeded out a lot of the bad guys," Melfi said.

Marines were tasked with more than just training quality policemen. They were given the awesome task of creating a functional police force.

"There was no administrative office," Roberto said.  "We didn't know why a guy was promoted or when.  No one was accountable for who came to work or any of that."

They were also given a shell of a building to turn into an academy.  The class that recently graduated had to travel from their homes every day to attend the training.  The next go around, though, will be different.

"The next class will be a live-in one," Roberto said.  "We'll have 100 fresh recruits, and it will be a live-in academy then."

Another instructor, Lance Cpl. Jeffery G. Mussman, also from Columbus, Ohio, said things were looking bright.

"We noticed a lot of flaws with the original training plan," Mussman said.  "So we added a whole section on close combat.  We also added more days to their field-fire time."

Things are getting better though.

"It's a start," Roberto said.  "We're using the crawl, walk, run method.  If anything, they will be better off than before."

"It starts with these guys," Gavigan added.  "Whether we succeed will depend on guys like these.  We're hoping they can influence the rest out there."