Volume 31, No. 4
Band Of Brothers – And Sisters
Photos and story by Sgt. 1st Class Robert Stephenson, NJDMAVA/PA
The Soldiers of the 42nd MP Company are a diverse
group of people with a common bond – they are all
No matter what they do in civilian life, as MPs, they
share a special calling on the streets of Iraq.
It doesn’t matter that the majority of the unit hails from
Massachusetts while a smaller detachment makes its
home in Lawrenceville. Or that the two separate units first
met shortly before being sent to Iraq. They may be bitter
rivals when the Yankees-Red Sox play, but here in the town
of Tikrit, they all play on the same team as they perform
their force protection mission.
New Jersey resident Staff Sgt. Tim Hoke describes
what it’s like working with Soldiers from Massachusetts.
“Outstanding. Other than the fact that they’re
Fans, they’re all right.”
Hoke, the convoy commander on
a recent mission outside the gates of FOB Danger and into the streets
Tikrit, enjoys working with the Massachusetts contingent,
and finds it not a problem at all.
“All being MP’s – 31 Bravos – it was as if we
were training with them for years,” says Hoke.
That same sentiment is echoed by the company’s top
NCO, 1st Sgt. Richard Bowe.
“It’s as if they were with us from day one at drill in
Chicopee, Mass,” says Bowe. “They came in and incorporated
without any issues. They’re our brothers – we don’t
even call them Jersey Soldiers, and they don’t call us
Mass, we’re the 42nd. I don’t know who’s training
down there but they’re doing a damn good job.”
“Just getting to know the people was the only
part,” notes Hoke. “But as far as doing the job – take
someone form Mass and someone from Jersey and put
them together and there’s no problem. It’s just like
law enforcement, they’re my brothers and sisters, and we
all look out for each other.”
Getting The Job Done
As MP’s stationed in Tikrit, their mission varies
daily. Mostly they spend their time on the road, either moving
detainees from the local detention center to Baghdad, or escorting
from FOB Danger to locations around the city. Regardless, each
unit member takes every
mission seriously. When asked if there is any particular
part of a mission that gives him cause for concern, Hoke
has a quick answer.
"The whole thing. There are certain areas that
worse than others, but you never know... it can be
anywhere out there. It could be anything from garbage bags
to dead dogs on the side of the road, so you never know.
They usually have IED (Improvised Explosive Device) sweeps
that go out every morning. So we usually wait for the sweep
but sometimes we have to hit our SP (Start Point) early in
the morning and so we pass the sweeps.”
On this mission, their five-vehicle convoy of up-armored
Humvees is escorting a 42nd Infantry Division community
relations officer outside the wire and to the “Governator’s
Building,” as it’s called, where the Tikrit provisional
has his offices. When moving outside the FOB, posted
speed limits and other traffic signs are ignored – the
vehicles never want to stop out in the open. Although the
building was just a short stretch down the road from FOB Danger,
that office building and the one next to it – the
headquarters of the Iraqi Police (IP), are the two buildings
most targeted by insurgents in the city, according to
Massachusetts resident Cpl. James Lawler, a lanky soldier
cradling a sniper rifle.
“See that yellow building right there?” Lawler
says as he points to the building next door. “That’s
always [set up] VBIED’s (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive
Devices) and kill the IP’s. This road sucks. Actually
as close as we are [to FOB Danger], this is the worst place
we can go besides Samarra.”
Hurry Up And Wait
the 42nd ID officer meeting with the provisional governor, the MP’s
set up a cordon with their vehicles
around the front of the building,
and with the exception
of the turret gunners, dismount,
set up a perimeter
During the next 90 minutes,
they are constantly
scanning the streets and alleys
facing the governor’s
building, looking for anything
that might be a threat.
“Watch the guy with the wheelbarrow,” shouts
above the Humvee’s engine. New Jersey resident Spc.
Charles Snook keeps an eye on the Iraqi worker who is
moving a wheelbarrow full of dirt towards the front of the
building. There are a number of Iraqi civilians trying to make
improvements to the building since major combat operations
ceased, but a wheelbarrow full of dirt could be
concealing something more.
“You can’t be complacent,” Hoke reminds
kills. You have to be ready for anything.” In this
case, the wheelbarrow full of dirt was just that – dirt.
Hoke’s team is a close-knit group of Soldiers who have
worked together on many missions, and includes one team
member who left her job at the Basketball Hall of Fame to
volunteer for the army so that she would have something to
tell friends and family about one day in the future.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience
for me,” says
Massachusetts resident Spc. Dalila Navarro, as she scans
the street for any movement that might be considered a
threat to her or her “brothers” on the team, a group
she considers her buddies. “They’re funny – funny
guys,” she says with a smile.
When the unit is on the road, Navarro stands in the
turret of the lead vehicle – a position she always requests –
and makes her presence known to the Iraqi civilians as the
unit convoys down the street. Occasionally she has to
throw rocks at the cars that don’t move out of the way fast
enough to get their attention and to show that she means
business. So far, that’s all she has had to do.
Meeting finished, they escort the officer back into
waiting Humvee and prepare to depart for FOB Danger. As
he stops to direct the placement
of vehicles I notice
something written on the side
of Hoke’s helmet band. It
reads “Psalm 91,” and I ask
him about it.
"Basically it says that '10,000 shall fall
at my feet and nothing shall harm me,'" he
read it once and
it sounded pretty good and
everybody else had it on and
I threw it on there too and it
seems to be working because
we’ve got someone looking
out for us, that’s for sure.”