TREBIL, Iraq --
When Sgt. Joan A. Ferreira took off his Marine Corps uniform in July 2006 and joined the New York City Police Department, he thought he was saying good-bye to the Corps forever.
The Marine Corps, however, had other plans for him.
Ferreira is now a 24-year old squad leader with Task Force Military Police, Multi-National Force-West, based at the Port of Trebil, a desolate border crossing between Iraq and Jordan.
The turn of events that brought Ferreira from patrolling the streets of East Harlem to the western fringes of al-Anbar province began with a letter he received in February 2008 from Marine Corps Mobilization Command in Kansas City, Mo.
The registered letter directed Ferreira to report within 90 days to Camp Lejeune, N.C., for a one-year, active duty mobilization.
“I had mixed feelings,” said Ferreira, who had been working on foot patrols for more than a year in one of the most crime-ridden sections of New York City. “I like being a cop. You know when you find your niche in life; I found mine in the NYPD. It was hard to leave my job and my family to come back in.”
Ferreira was also working on his bachelor’s degree full-time, sharing an apartment with his twin brother, who works in New York City as an investment banker.
Although he had completed his four-year active duty commitment in the Marine Corps in July 2006, Ferreira still had four years of obligated service in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR).
All U.S. active duty service members, upon joining the military, incur an eight-year commitment. Most are on active duty for four or six years, and then serve the remainder of their contract in the IRR.
During their time in the IRR, service members can be recalled to active duty at any time for a period of up to 12 months, with one additional month for leave.
In July 2006, the President of the United States authorized the Marine Corps to involuntarily activate up to a maximum of 2,500 Marines from the IRR at any given time, according to Maj. Winston Jimenez, 41, the public affairs officer for Marine Corps Mobilization Command, who is a native of Merriam, Kan.
There are currently about 1,000 IRR Marines mobilized on active duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As IRR Marines complete their year and are deactivated, said Jimenez, others can be involuntarily activated, so long as the total number of IRR Marines on involuntary active duty at one time does not exceed 2,500.
Jimenez explained the reasoning behind using IRR Marines to augment active duty forces.
“The commandant of the Marine Corps has established minimum unit-manning levels for units to deploy in support of the Global War on Terrorism,” said Jimenez. “Individual Ready Reservists are used to fill the unit manning shortages and raise the units to required deployment manning levels.”
Task Force MP, which also consists of Marines from MP Co., Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, and 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, needed a number of key junior leaders, like Ferreira, to fill out their ranks. In the spirit of “once a Marine, always a Marine,” Ferreira answered the call.
“Getting back into the Marine Corps way of thinking was tough after being out for two years and being an independent operator,” explained Ferreira.
Before joining Task Force MP in May 2008, he went through administrative processing and physical examinations at Camp Lejeune, then attended an abbreviated infantry course to ensure that his warrior skills were honed.
“It was basic Marine Corps knowledge that every Marine should know mostly weapons and convoy security,” said Ferreira, who served his first hitch as a motor transport operator. “The training was a refresher to get us back into the Marine Corps mindset. All the knowledge was still in the back of my brain housing group.”
Before deploying to Iraq, Ferreira spent the summer training with his new unit at Marine Corps bases in North Carolina and at Fort Polk, La., an Army base.
While at Fort Polk, Task Force MP went through an intensive 30-day exercise called “Cajun Viper.” Training side-by-side with U.S. Army soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, the Marines learned critical anti-insurgency tactics and techniques. Many of the scenarios were set in an urban warfare environment and included thousands of Iraqi role players to lend a sense of realism to the training.
In the end, Task Force MP emerged a cohesive team that was prepared to face any assigned mission during their seven-month tour in Iraq.
Ferreira’s team is currently responsible for monitoring traffic through the Port of Trebil, checking identification badges, passports and biometrics information to catch insurgents and other criminals on the lam.
As the only major border port with Jordan, one of Iraq’s primary trading partners, Trebil is the crossing point for almost all vehicle traffic and commerce traversing the two countries.
Because the border port is a hot spot for insurgents and other criminals to pass into and out of Iraq, Ferreira’s Marines and their Iraqi counterparts vigilantly check those entering and leaving the country for counterfeit passports and identification badges and analyze the biometrics data to find and/or track people of interest.
Although the possibility of a terrorist attack at the border is always present, Ferreira expressed that the atmosphere in Iraq is less hostile than what he faced day-to-day back in East Harlem, which the police refer to as an “impact zone.”
Nonetheless, Ferreira is disappointed about missing his shot at moving on to being a plain-clothes police officer this past summer, the first step to achieving his life-long goal of becoming a narcotics detective.
Ferreira cited his sense of obligation to his country and his community for aspiring toward a position in such a dangerous field.
“It’s the guy that would be selling drugs to my kids, to anybody’s kids,” he said. “You aren’t who you really are when you’re on drugs. It leads to theft, assault, and other criminal activities…. Chasing these people down, cleaning up the streets, that’s what I really want to be doing.”
Regardless of his personal druthers, however, Ferreira, like thousands of other U.S. military veterans from all branches of the service in the IRR, continues to serve on the front lines of the Global War on Terror.