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California MPs return to Iraq

By Brandon Honig
California National Guard

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., (8/31/09) -- After leading the Continental Army to victory over the heavily favored British, George Washington was elected president of the United States.

But without a lesser-known figure from America's history — Baron Friedrich von Steuben — Washington's name may have faded into obscurity.

“There was nothing wrong with [the Continental] Army. It could fight. It just couldn't win,” Maj. Gen. John S. Harrel, commander of the California Army National Guard, told his troops at a deployment ceremony here on Aug. 12. “[Von Steuben] figured out a way to fix this. It was called ‘training discipline.'”

Von Steuben, a former Prussian army officer, who volunteered to serve Washington in 1777, is credited with transforming the Continental Army from a raw band of patriots into a military force that could defeat the world's largest army.

“You are the Von Steubens of Iraq,” Harrel told the Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), 49th Military Police Brigade. “Your job is to get those security forces, so they can stand on their own two feet and win.”

Harrel drew another parallel between Von Steuben's Revolutionary fighters and the Iraqi security forces as well: “The people fighting that war were fighting for something called liberty.”

More than 100 Soldiers of the 49th Military Police Brigade HHC departed Aug. 13 for Fort Dix, N.J., where they will spend a month training before they deploy for a year in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Almost 600 relatives, friends and community members wished the brigade well at the deployment ceremony.

The festivities included the induction of the unit's new morale dog, Sophie. “Her job is to mingle with Soldiers after they come back from outside the wire and they're stressed and they've worked hard all day and they've faced the dangers of Iraq all day long,” said Brig. Gen. Donald Currier, commander of the 49th MP Brigade. “She's a great morale dog.”

Sgt. Anthony Pantazis said an emotional goodbye to his father, Manuel, after the ceremony.
“I'm very proud of my son, very proud of what he's doing,” Manuel Pantazis said. “I'm going to miss him a great deal.”

Sgt. Pantazis, a Guardsman since 2006, was preparing for his first deployment.

“I'm nervous but I'm excited, and I really want to go and help,” he said. “[I joined the Guard] to support our nation and to help out the people of Iraq.”

The unit previously deployed in October 2005 for a year in Iraq, where it led three MP battalions, 23 companies and five detachments in military police combat operations throughout the country. The company will return to Iraq in September to further assist in developing the Iraqi police.

During the HHC's first deployment, the company created the first police transition teams (PTT) in Iraq.
“We had civilians, brigade combat teams and MPs all going to the Iraqi police stations separately,” said Lt. Col. Peter Cross. “So we took all of those experts and put them in one team, called the PTT.”

The company built more than 200 PTTs during its year in Iraq, covering 14 of the country's 18 provinces.
“During that tenure, 2005 to 2006, security was really bad. So all we could do was form the teams up and have them start visiting the police stations,” Cross said. “I don't think we made a lot of progress training the Iraqis in police work.”

Soldiers who arrived on later deployments advanced the police training, however, and Iraqi leaders are now fully in charge of the police, Cross said.

During the upcoming deployment, Cross expects the 49th MP HHC will help Iraq take another crucial step toward establishing law and order.

“The Iraqis are ready to now connect the rule-of-law institutions,” Cross said, referring to the police, judicial and penal aspects of government. “I think we are going to spend a lot of our time linking up those various aspects of the rule-of-law cycle … because they should all be talking to one another.”

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