Super Bowl generates valuable training for Arizona Army Guard

Super Bowl generates valuable training for Arizona Army Guard

Spc. Stratton Hatch from the 856th Military Police Company of the Arizona Army National Guard uses a shield for protection from dust and debris while a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter takes off at the Florence Military Reservation on Jan. 25 during the unit’s annual training. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Lauren Twigg)

FLORENCE, Ariz. – Super Bowl XLIX, deemed a success by state officials and the NFL, brought added benefits to Arizona by providing the state’s Army National Guard with training used to prepare them to support civil authorities in the event of a major emergency.

More than 100 Soldiers from the 856th Military Police Company spent the month of January training to become the state’s National Guard Reaction Force, or NGRF, at the Florence Military Reservation here.

Fortunately, civil law enforcement and first responders masterfully kept residents and guests safe during the many event leading up to the big game; but in the event of a major incident, Arizona’s Guard members were prepared to serve as back up.

“Our primary objective was to train to support local law enforcement in the event of a civil disturbance situation,” said Army Capt. Jerett Burman, the company commander, “so we modified our training to accommodate the most likely scenarios we could encounter if we are called up.”

Burman explained how Soldiers were at home, not deployed to an overseas combat environment, so ensuring troops understood the rules of engagement was critical to mission success. He said that it was important that Soldiers respect citizens’ First Amendment rights, which means training focused on the appropriate actions when unlawful acts take place.

During the training, Soldiers exercised a scenario where several people were disturbing the peace during an unauthorized protest. The outnumbered law enforcement agency requested National Guard support.

The purpose of the scenario, according to Burman, was for Soldiers to understand their role as integrated support to civil agencies, not as primary law enforcement. “We are never there to handle a civil situation directly on our own,” he said.

Citizen-Soldier advantage

One of the unique advantages of being a Citizen-Soldier is having a civilian job that contributes to the mission. Company 1st Sgt. Matthew O’Halloran estimated that around 20 to 30 percent of the Soldiers in the 865 MP Company are employed full time by law enforcement agencies. They brought their real-world experiences to the training environment adding nuance and enrichment to the training.

“A lot of our work involves helping law enforcement, and when you come into a situation – like we have in the past – where the military and law enforcement speak different operational languages, having somebody who is proficient with both the civilian agency and military vernacular, makes integration that much easier,” Burman said.

“This mission is my bread and butter,” said Army Sgt. Dennis Caviness, and MP squad leader and a California correctional officer of 15 years. “This training was real enough to create the necessary situational awareness for Soldiers. We needed to teach them not to overreact to a situation.”

Communication is key to developing leaders

Communication is another fundamental skill for military police officers. It was not uncommon during briefings and rehearsals for junior Soldiers to be quizzed by leadership on their knowledge of the mission prior to taking action.

“It’s about making sure Soldiers are paying attention,” Caviness said. “They have to make the right decision at a moment’s notice, and they need to be able to think for themselves. If a private is just trained to follow and take direction, then that’s all a Soldier will do.”

The redundancy of the communication process helped Soldiers understand the importance of teamwork. O’Halloran explained how it is a way to train the next generation of leaders. “That private 1st class is potentially going to be a team leader in two or three years, so if you start building that skill, and show them what the bigger picture looks like, then things will be far more engrained in that Soldier’s mind when he or she is read for more responsibility.”

Although the MPs' annual training has come to a conclusion, the Soldiers are now better qualified to serve in a NGRF for local emergency response agencies in times of need. Their training, however, never really ends.

“As a NGRF, we will train every couple of months like this to ensure readiness for real world missions,” O’Halloran said. “Our responses could range in a variety of efforts; from securing a building or area in the event of a large-scale emergency, to helping with an evacuation, or delivering food and supplies in the event of a natural disaster. Either way, we are now ready to support those local elements.”