Shelby County serving Iraq

Published 12:14 pm Wednesday, April 21, 2010

While patrolling the streets of Shelby County for about two years, Sgt. Matthew Glassford routinely worked to combat drug crimes, burglaries, civil disputes and numerous offenses local deputies deal with every day.

But even though Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies regularly handle a gamut of cases involving everything from guns to speeding drivers, Alabama is a world apart from Glassford’s current duties.

Glassford, a sergeant with the Alabama National Guard’s 217th Military Police Company, has been deployed to Camp Victory, Iraq since June 27, 2009.

While in Iraq, Glassford’s main duty has been to train Iraqi Police officers to handle a variety of scenarios many law enforcement officers in the United States never have to deal with.

“The similarities are few and far between,” Glassford said, comparing Alabama law enforcement to its Iraqi counterpart. “The basic weapon safety and the basic techniques we teach them are similar, but out here, there is a much wider spectrum of dangers they have to face.”

Glassford, a Pelham resident, said he has trained Iraqi officers to handle everything from emergency first aid to felony traffic stops.

The 217th MP Company was one of the first units to partner with the Iraqi Highway Patrol, which is working to maintain order in the historically unstable Middle East country.

“We spent the first few weeks building a rapport with them and gaining each other’s trust,” Glassford said. “Then, we were able to work with them and get them to where we need them.

“We, in essence, are training them to take the lead in their country,” Glassford added.

Police work in Iraq differs greatly from patrolling the streets of Alabama, Glassford said. Iraqi officers must deal with small arms fire, snipers, terrorist attacks, improvised explosive devices and many other dangers much more frequently than their American counterparts.

“Those are things that, thankfully, you just don’t see in Shelby County,” Glassford said. “That’s definitely a good thing.”

Glassford said seeing the Iraqi officers use the police tactics they learned from the 217th MP Company to ensure the safety of their towns and cities is the most rewarding part of his military duty.

“There really isn’t one instance that stands out in my mind. I am too much focused on my day-to-day duties,” Glassford said. “Seeing them progressively get better as we go along keeps us motivated.

“It’s very rewarding to see them put that training to use,” he added.

When he arrived at Camp Victory, Glassford said he immediately recognized the hospitality of the Iraqi people.

“One thing that struck me is that their culture is very welcoming,” he said. “Once you are around them and get to know them, they treat you like family.

“We actually go out and eat with them sometimes,” Glassford added.

Though Glassford said he has found his deployment rewarding, he is anxious to return home to Pelham in a few months.

“I will get to come home hopefully in June or July,” Glassford said. “I get to talk to my family quite a bit, but I am looking forward to coming home very much.”