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Retired cops help Marines advise Mahmudiyah's policemen

26 Jul 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Marines from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment are getting a helping hand from the long arm of the law.

Three International Police Advisors, all retired cops from the United States, recently arrived to give Marines help in training and advising Mahmudiyah's fledgling police force.

The three former policemen are bolstering the professionalism of Iraqi Police.  The IPA currently has more than 200 retired policemen working in Iraq to help build and train the police force.

"Our first step is to develop a working relationship with the police chiefs in the area," said Robert N. Voytko, a 59-year-old retired policeman with 29 years on the force from Hagerstown, Md. 

Twenty-nine years with the police force taught Voytko a lot about running a police force and he intends to pass his knowledge on to the Iraqis. 

"Our second step is to identify the problems we have and then our third step is to work with the organization to overcome them," Voytko added.

The three men are starting with initial assessments of the police stations in the area and will later move on to teaching classes and accompanying the policemen on their beats.

The team plans to spend ten months in Mahmudiyah working with the three police departments in the battalion's area of operations.  The long time span gives the retired policemen the opportunity to take time to do things right, according to one team member.

"Time is not of the essence here," explained John Chapman, a 61-year-old from Joshua, Texas.  "We need to get them operating first and then we can work on refining their skills."

Chapman has stacked up 15 years working for various police and sheriff's departments to the team.  He said people in the community needed to feel comfortable with police presence. 

The idea of an operational police force is going to take some time to catch on here, he added.

One of the largest problems the new police force in Iraq will encounter is overcoming the fear instilled in them from being associated as police.  Police and Iraqi National Guard soldiers are often targeted by anti-Iraqi forces.

"One task for us is to instill confidence in the police force out there," said William R. Womack, a 46-year-old from Bastrop, La.  "That's the only way we're going to overcome that threat."

Womack brought 20 years of experience with the Morehouse Parish Police Department before coming to Iraq.

"These are all problems any society runs into post-war," he explained.  "It took the U.S. a few years to get everything together.  It'll be the same way here."

The policemen must not only overcome language barriers but also cultural ones.  The Iraqi version of personnel management differs from the ones familiar to the former policemen.

"In the police stations here the chief wants to have a hundred percent visibility on everything that goes on," Chapman said. "In our departments we're used to issuing a task and trusting it will get done.  It's done differently here."

Giving the new policemen empowerment to complete tasks is something the team will work on during their time here, he added.

"Eventually we'll be able to show them our method of doing things does work," Chapman explained.  "That's a little ways down the road though.  It's crawl, walk then run."

Marines with the civil affairs team, which oversees the police force here, are happy to have the men aboard.  The professionalism and experience the men bring to the team are invaluable assets to the Marines who only know the military way of doing things.

"It's good to have people who know the other side of things," said 22-year-old Lance Cpl. Joshua J. Abraham, from Medina, Ohio.  "That experience they have goes a long way here."

The radio technician works with the civil affairs team and sees the retired cops every day. 

He added military units don't really understand what these Iraqi policemen are going through.  But now Marines have a new base of knowledge with policemen who have been there themselves, starting at the bottom.

"The retired policemen even go out with us on house searches and help us clear rooms," Abraham said.  "Their experience is helping the Iraqis and the Marines here."