Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The 731st MP EPW


(Note this image is not of the 731st MP Unit I'm discussing in the text below). 

The text below is for a project I am working on for Chamorro Studies. Documenting and telling the story of the 731st MP EPW, the only reserve component unit from the Pacific to go to fight in Desert Storm. As you'll read below, they performed very well while there:

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People often think of Guam as a small place, and therefore assume that those small places and those who come from those small places are not capable of great deeds. We see this to hardly be true in the work of the 731st MP Company, started on July 31st, 1981. Formed soon after the Guam National Guard was created, this company was trained specifically for EPW processing or Enemy Prisoners of War Processing.

Their training was tested when they were activated and deployed during the First Gulf War. They were the only reserve component unit from the Asia-Pacific region to be deployed during this conflict.

Some might assume that since these men, primarily Chamorro but some who were Filipino, came from the other side of the world they would be ill prepared for the desert conflict they were to work in. A party was held on January 2, 1991 at Anderson South, to honor the brave men of the 731st who were about to be sent to the other side of the world. There was many salutations, many tears, and many prayers that these boys from Guam make it home safely.

As the men traveled from Guam, to Schofield, and then to New Jersey and Germany, they were naturally anxious. In Schofield they underwent physical examinations and received weapons training. Most importantly they were prepared for the possibility of chemical warfare. Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq had gassed the Kurdish people before, and the US military was taking no chances. The 731st were issued special masks and suits in case of a gas attack. While the men remained stoic, not wanting to show any fear, their officers worried about them and hoped that all would be well.

When they arrived in Darhnan, Saudia Arabia, they were entering a completely different world. They could feel it immediately. They arrived at night, with the air quiet and cold, the land filled with snow. As the 731st settled in, they remarked that the eeriness of the base around them felt like the night before a typhoon. Uncertainty filled the air.

The war had not gone well for the Iraqis and that had thousands of forward troops that had been completely cut off or abandoned from their command after the US began to bomb and invade. Tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers began to surrender hoping to get some food, after their own supply lines had vanished. It was here that the 731st proved their skills, their mental fortitude and may have set military records.

Prisoners of war would be brought into the processing tents. High value targets would be processed and immediately taken elsewhere for interrogation. The majority of prisoners would be given wristbands and scanned into the computers. There were always far more prisoners than there were MPs. Each day as crowds of hungry and sometimes desperate Iraqis were pushed through the 731st worried about the potential for a riot to break out. Desert Storm was the first conflict in which computers were used for enemy prisoner of war processing. Sand was the worst enemy as it tended to foul up everything.

The 731st performed exceptionally, in one 12-hour shift they processed more than 1000 prisoners of war. Over two shifts they processed close to 2000 prisoners of war. This was particularly impressive considering the fact that the handbooks for the systems they were using were sometimes non-existent or unhelpful. The 731st and other MP units had to come up with their own rules and systems to fill the void. It is estimated that over their four month deployment they processed more than 20,000 total prisoners of war.

Although life was difficult, the 731st still maintained morale through their pride in Guam and their connections to home and Chamorro culture. General Ed Perez had given many of the reservists care packages while they had been training in Hawai’i, filled with reminders of home. At their compound in Saudi Arabia, they flew the Guam flag proudly. At one point in order to deal with their homesickness they resorted to making a very special type of dish, camel kelaguan. Many of the men said it tasted like deer, and unused to eating camels decided to imagine it was kelaguan binadu instead.

On May 10th, 1991 the 731st returned to Guam. They were driven from the airport to a special reception for them at Adelup. Their return coincided with Mother’s Day and this added to their feelings of relief and joy in being home. They shared a meal with their families and local leaders spoke. For some, this day was the first time in months that they tasted beer. Rules in the Islamic countries that they had been deployed too prohibited the drinking of alcohol.

A year after the 731st returned from Desert Storm they were decommissioned. On March 8, 1992 at Fort Juan Muna, First Lieutenant Joseph Hara Salas, the last commander of the unit lowered the guidon in the presence of Lieutenant Governor Frank Blas. The Chamorro Studies program at UOG is currently working with Captain Salas about interviewing members of the 731st who were part of this exciting moment in Chamorro history and ensure that this story is preserved.

1 comment:

Arthur Meilicke said...

I was reading your post reference the 731st MP Co. I was a charter member of the Guam National Guard, and the 731st MP Co. was activated 21 July 1981. The unit was being decommissioned just prior to Desert Shield/Storm. The unit had a strength of about 10 - 15 personnel who were processing equipment, much of which had already been turned in. When the unit was activated for Desert Shield/Storm, it was difficult to find volunteers to fill the unit, so a platoon from the USAR 368th MP Co on Guam was activated, and one of its members became the unit's commander. Additional personnel came from volunteers from Hawaii, California, and Alaska. There were soldiers with a variety of ethnic backgrounds to include personnel from the islands of Micronesia. Gen Perez aptly dubbed the unit Patriots of the Pacific. LTC Arthur Meilicke, ARNG, Ret

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