- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 7, 2004

PETERSBURG, Va. — They trained police officers and set up a police academy. They helped rebuild courts and schools. Three of them received Purple Hearts and six were awarded Bronze Stars.

Members of the military police unit at the heart of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal said yesterday they did a lot of good for the people of Iraq, and they feared their work would be overlooked because of the abuse allegations at the now-infamous prison.

“I don’t know if people saw just how friendly we were with the local population. Folks on the street just loved it when we came into the city and we cleaned up the city with the Iraqi police,” said Sgt. Stephen Pierson, who helped establish a police academy in the town of Al Hillah.

More than 100 members of the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Cresaptown, Md., returned to their families Monday at the Fort Lee Army post near Petersburg. After five days of readjustment training, three reservists agreed to talk with the media about their accomplishments, so long as no mention of the prison abuse scandal was made.

Fort Lee personnel warned journalists that if they asked questions about the investigation into abuses or the seven soldiers accused of abusing prisoners, the interviews would be cut short.

“The soldiers won’t be able to talk about that because it’s all under investigation,” Fort Lee spokesman Travis Edwards said.

Sgt. Pierson said he didn’t want the prison abuse scandal to diminish the work of the MP unit. “I’m pretty proud of what we accomplished over there. … [The scandal] doesn’t impact upon me. Why would it?” he said.

Staff Sgt. John Tamuschy said, “Our unit has a rich history. One little thing is not going to dampen us. Why would you let one thing of a select group dampen you?”

The unit’s first task after being deployed on May 15, 2003, was to train new Iraqi police officers and help set up a police academy, Army officials said. The unit was transferred to Abu Ghraib prison in October 2003, with some working in the detention center and others helping rebuild police stations, courts and schools in the area.

The MPs trained more than 2,000 Iraqi police officers at the academy.

Sgt. Pierson said that when they first arrived in Iraq the local police did not want to leave their stations without American soldiers, but that quickly changed. “They really got to the point where they wanted to show us, independent of us, they could do the job,” he said.

“When we first got there it was the Wild West … when we left you could walk the streets at night,” he said.

The unit’s mobilization was extended in April, and in May the reservists began escorting civilian convoys and carrying supplies for coalition forces.

Sgt. Tamuschy said the only time the unit’s morale dipped was when its mobilization was extended.

“Morale went down pretty quick,” he said.

However, he said spirits rose again after they learned they were staying to help other troops on the ground.

One of the seven soldiers accused in the abuse scandal has pleaded guilty. Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits was sentenced to a year in prison. A pretrial hearing for another of the accused, Pfc. Lynndie England, is being held at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The Article 32 hearing is to determine whether Pfc. England should face a court-martial on 13 counts of abusing detainees and six counts stemming from possession of sexually explicit photos. If convicted, she could get up to 38 years in prison.

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