They protect military personnel on the battlefield, train K-9 partners to sniff out bombs, and exonerate wrongfully accused soldiers of crimes through detailed investigation.
“The jobs that I had in the military police, they were all very satisfying because you always knew that you were helping in some respect,” said Col. Frank Cohn, USA (Ret), a World War II veteran. “We took care of the troops.”
This year, Cohn and CW5 Phil Tackett, USA (Ret), both Life Members of MOAA, are among five veterans recognized with the Military Police Regimental Association’s Gold-level Order of the Marechaussee award. They join just 11 other recipients since the award’s inception in 2000. The award must be approved by the commandant of the Army Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
“I was proud to sign all of those awards,” said Brig. Gen. Brian Bisacre, deputy chief of staff for Army Reserve Command. He approved the five recipients just before leaving his position as the school’s top officer.
“What differentiates us is, as both military professionals and police professionals, we have Army values, but we hold ourselves to a standard that is part of a rule of law that protects people,” Bisacre said. “We assist, protect and defend. That mission is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We do it in a deployed environment. It’s just in their blood. Not only service as a soldier, but also public service.”
The Army’s Military Police Corps dates back to the Revolutionary War. Its members conduct reconnaissance and surveillance, provide site security and response, manage law enforcement, command military prisoners and enemy combatants, and oversee police intelligence operations.
‘It’s a Distinct Honor’
Cohn, who escaped Germany in 1938 after the Gestapo visited his childhood home, planned on joining the Army to fight in World War II. He completed training with the Reserve Officer Training Corps and was assigned to the 87th Infantry Division.
The division arrived in Belgium before anyone realized Cohn could speak German. He was sent to training to become an intelligence agent and placed on an interrogation team that sought out German soldiers attempting to infiltrate the Army by wearing American uniforms.
After his service during World War II, Cohn reclassified as Military Police so he could stay active duty; intelligence jobs were only for Reserve officers at the time. He served as a member of the military police until he retired in 1978, with service in Korea and Vietnam along with two return trips to Germany.
He was inducted in the Military Police Regiment’s Hall of Fame in 2004. His work to help establish the Provost Marshal General’s Office is what caught the eye of Bisacre as he considered award recipients.
“It’s a distinct honor,” Cohn said. “And what’s even more impressive is that they still remember me after all these years because it’s easy enough to forget people as they leave. It’s very touching, really.”
‘There’s No Room for Error’
Fellow award recipient Tackett said he was surprised his service would be recognized. He is the regiment’s first chief warrant officer, paving the way for each of the warrant officers who have served since his time.
“I’m truly humbled by the honor of being nominated and to actually receive it,” Tackett said. “And it’s not me that got the award – it’s everybody that I’ve worked with. It goes to everybody I’ve worked with. Whether you work with the basic MPs and the MPI investigators, the commanders, the senior NCOs, it’s definitely a team effort.”
For Tackett, a career in law enforcement almost didn’t happen. He’d applied to be a state trooper in Kentucky, but was rejected.
He joined the Army instead and was trained as a personnel specialist, but in a twist of fate, his first assignment was at a crime lab for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) in Japan.
He was trained as an evidence custodian in the chemistry section and worked as a lab examiner with expertise in identifying marijuana. He was soon accepted into the Army’s CID school for continued, in-depth training.
“When you’re examining evidence, it can either prove somebody’s innocence or guilt,” Tackett said. “I was always conscientious as to what I was doing. I was very objective and just conscientious in what I was doing.”
Over his 36-year-career, Tackett investigated thousands of cases. High-profile cases he worked on include the My Lai massacre and the Jeffrey MacDonald case, in which, despite post-conviction appeals, a conviction was upheld for an Army officer charged with killing his pregnant wife and two daughters on Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1970.
However, one of the most rewarding parts of his job was exonerating a falsely accused soldier.
“I think one of the things that made me feel good about what I was doing was to prove somebody innocent - not just to prove somebody guilty necessarily,” he said. “There is no room for error because you do have an impact on somebody’s life, whether it be military or civilian, because when somebody goes to jail, they can’t get rid of that. And it further impacts their (life), like the ability to get a good job.”
Other Gold-level Order of the Marechaussee recipients include:
- H. Tracy Williams, III, USA (Ret), who retired from the Army after 29 years of service and is now chief of Staff and civilian deputy to the Army Provost Marshal General at the Pentagon.
- Command Sgt. Maj. James W. Frye, USA (Ret), who served in the Army for 29 years. He is the first regimental sergeant major.
- 1st Class Leigh A. Hester, who continues to serve with the Army National Guard. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, her squad was ambushed by enemy fire as it was clearing a route for a supply convoy near Baghdad. She directed her team away from the enemy’s fire and into a flanking position. She walked directly into the line of fire to kill at least three enemy combatants at close range. Every member of her unit survived. She is the first woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star and the first woman ever to receive the award for combat valor.