View Full Version : Forged on the front line

12-30-03, 06:54 AM
Forged on the front line

Duty changes Reserve unit in Iraq and families at home

By James W. Crawley

December 29, 2003

Last year this time, Corey Mann was picking classes to enroll in at MiraCosta College.

Now Mann, 20, is teaching a class in Baghdad, Iraq.

Mann and several dozen soldiers with a San Diego-based Army Reserve unit are teaching Western-style law enforcement from handcuffing suspects to basic human rights to shooting pistols to Iraqi police officers more familiar with torture than Miranda rights.

This has been an unusual year for the men, women and families of the 382nd Military Police Detachment, a unit of reservists from Southern California.

In 2002, they celebrated Christmas and New Year's at home with little expectation that the darkening war clouds over Iraq would affect their lives.

But in January, phone calls started an odyssey that has stretched from San Diego to Baghdad.

The unit has been "boots on the ground" since arriving in the region March 1. They hope to be homeward bound by the one-year anniversary.

They have missed Easter, Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and, now, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's. And that doesn't count the multitude of missed family birthdays, school plays, lost baby teeth, Little League games and wedding anniversaries.

In the 11 months since mobilization, the 41 soldiers have changed.

They have been transformed from civilians to soldiers. Recruits to combat veterans. Students to teachers. Teenagers to adults.

"It's made me grow up a lot faster," Mann said in a phone interview. "I have to act like I'm 30 years old, not 20 years old, because if you make a mistake here you get killed."

Back home, 7,731 miles and 11 time zones away, their families have changed, too.

Self-sufficiency, fear, worry and pride have changed those left behind.

"I'm definitely more independent," said Ilona Friedemann, wife of the unit's top enlisted soldier, 1st Sgt. Marcus Friedemann. "I have to run the whole household, from fixing the toilets to going to Little League."

In Carlsbad, Mann's mother, Colleen McClung, has become more introspective.

"I've learned don't take anything for granted and I've learned more about the importance of family," McClung said.

She worries about how the war will affect her oldest child.

"The bad things, the killings I hope they don't haunt him," McClung said.

For Margie Brigham, mother of 19-year-old Spc. Chris Brigham, the round of parades and celebrations marking the return of local Marines and sailors ignited a burning frustration.

"I wanted to scream, 'What about the others who are still there!' " Margie Brigham said. "It hit us the worst because all these active-duty soldiers signed up for 24/7 for four years. My son is a weekend warrior. He shouldn't be over there. That was the most bitter pill for us."

During daily e-mail messages, regular satellite phone calls and a two-week rest and recuperation trip home for some, family members say they have seen a tremendous transformation in the soldiers.

"He had a confidence about him," McClung said. "He's grown up."

The Brighams also discovered a mature man when their son arrived home on leave.

"This is the boy who used to throw a baseball against the wall and now he wears a pistol strapped to his leg," Margie Brigham said.

"He didn't complain (about being in Iraq)," said his father, Bryan Brigham. "But, he wouldn't put up with a bunch of garbage (from people) when he's lived it and done it."

Likewise, Mann acknowledged a lower tolerance for problems or people who make mistakes.

"I'm grouchy a lot," he said.

Their work in Baghdad also has instilled pride in themselves, the soldiers said.

Initially, the military police detachment was posted at four Iraqi police stations that had been looted and burned. After cleaning up debris and connecting electricity, the soldiers started teaching American police techniques to the Iraqis.

Several weeks later, most of the troops moved to Baghdad's police academy to teach police officers from the Saddam Hussein regime about human and women's rights, torture-free investigations and basic police skills. Others work at a former palace with coalition officials.

"We started from the ground up," said 1st Sgt. Marcus Friedemann, a Los Angeles County sheriff's detective who was called up. "They're eager to learn and eager to work."

So far, the 382nd has trained several hundred Iraqi police officers, known as IPs in Army slang.

The classes have been challenging because of the cultural and language barriers the soldiers use translators and the Hussein regime's penchant for brutality.

Many Iraqi police are surprised by Sgt. 1st Class Teresa Valdez, who has a 15-month-old daughter in San Diego. Valdez teaches a course on respecting women.

"They think women are weak," she said. "I tell them, 'If society teaches that women are strong, they will be strong.'

"A lot know changes are coming."

Another reservist, Sgt. Lance Pothe, uses role playing and videotapes of the television show "Law & Order" to teach proper police techniques. It can be a hard sell for people who have known no other way but torture and corruption.

Iraqis "should not be judged by the ones on the street or the policemen," Pothe said. "You don't see the good people on the street. They are at home or working and taking care of their families."

After graduation, many of the Iraqi police officers return to tell how they successfully used their newly taught skills to solve crimes and make arrests, Friedemann said.

"We see a change in attitude," he said.

James W. Crawley:
(619) 542-4559; jim.crawley@uniontrib.com