MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
For years, Marines and sailors have been at the forefront of some of the world’s most intense conflicts, fighting for freedom and defending America against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.
Those who protect these defenders of freedom on their home turf also stand at the forefront of danger, and at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, force protection begins at its gates.
More than 450 military police and Marine Corps Civilian Law Enforcement Program officers with the Provost Marshal’s Office, MCB Camp Lejeune, risk life and limb every time they take their posts. Rain or shine, weekends and holidays, these gate sentries do whatever it takes to protect the fortress of America’s “few and the proud.”
“Our gate sentries are the first line of defense, not only for force protection but also for enforcement of base orders and North Carolina traffic laws,” said Capt. Ricardo Benavides, operations officer with PMO. “Our guys are out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year protecting the base and all personnel aboard the installation.”
Marines and MCCLEP personnel both go through an intense training regimen before they take on this responsibility. Marines learn basic military police skills at the U.S. Army MP School in Fort Leonard Wood, Miss., while their civilian counterparts train at the East Coast Regional Marine Corps Police Academy aboard Camp Johnson.
Both are equipped with basic law enforcement skills such as interrogation techniques, report writing, military law and knowledge of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Once these new trainees arrive at Camp Lejeune, they undergo an additional 13-week Field Training Officer Program where mentors help them develop and hone their law enforcement and leadership skills until they are ready to be on the front lines.
Tony Brienza, a MCCLEP officer with first platoon, PMO, MCB Camp Lejeune, has been a certified law enforcement officer since 2008. Brienza, a former Marine with 2nd Marine Division, said he enjoys reacting to the fast-paced, always-changing situations and interfacing with a variety of people on his old stomping grounds.
“I wanted to work with the military and I love being a police officer, so I came back to Camp Lejeune,” said Brienza. “We work hand-in-hand with the Marines and I love the camaraderie.”
MPs and MCCLEP officers have not only formed bonds of friendship but a partnership as well. Benavides said approximately 60 percent of the PMO police force will be civilianized by 2012 due to the Marine Corps’ needs for its MPs to return to the operating forces.
Cpl. James Willaman, an MP with first platoon, PMO said his past deployment experiences to Iraq and Afghanistan with MP Company, Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, have helped him become more technically and tactically proficient in his stateside duties.
“I’m not as nervous when I talk to people now because I had to talk to people in Iraq and Afghanistan who didn’t always speak the same language, so it makes it easier to react to situations,” said Willaman. “I love being able to wear the uniform and badge and keep this base secure.”
Staff Sgt. Anibal Paz, a platoon sergeant with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, said the gate sentries do a great job of maintaining good order and discipline for the service members and families who live and work on base.
“(The sentries) are professional, courteous and they keep traffic flowing,” said Paz. “If they aren’t on constant alert and looking out for suspicious activity, that’s when Marines get hurt.”
Benavides said he is proud of his Marine and civilian police officers and had full confidence in their abilities to accomplish whatever mission is set before them.
“They take pride in what they do,” said Benavides. “Regardless of when you come on base, they will always be there to help.”