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Cop Returns From Iraq Officer Jonathon Stewart, 27

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Posted 31 August 2003 - 09:53 AM

"They wanted to be like American police officers," Stewart said. "They wanted to look and wanted to act like Americans. They had the sunglasses and one guy looked like Sipowicz from ‘NYPD Blue.’"

Cop returns from Iraq

Gina Zotti , Staff Writer 08/31/2003

EAST WHITELAND -- Working patrol in the township may not be as exciting as running on the rooftops after Iraqi criminals.

However, it’s bound to be less stressful than attempting to build the An Nasiriyah Police Department back from scratch.

Officer Jonathon Stewart, 27, recently returned to the East Whiteland Police Department from overseas where he served as a sergeant with the Echo Company of the Second Battalion, 25th Marines Corps.

He was sent overseas on March 8. He spent one day in Kuwait and got off a plane the following night in Iraq where he was quickly introduced to war.

Waking up at 2 a.m. to people yelling and sirens wailing, he said he could see the explosions of a Scud attack. Within in the next day and a half, three more attacks occurred, before the company left for Nasiriyah in choppers, with soldiers shooting machine guns out the door.

After the first few weeks though, Stewart was hand-picked and pulled off the squad to be sent to "Task Force Finest."

Due to his law enforcement background, he and three other Marines were put in charge of the city’s police department.

"If we could get it up and running they could better protect the community than the Marines could," Stewart said.

Where there was once 3,000 officers before the war, Stewart only had 166, plus two secretaries, left to teach.

"Saddam used police as strong-arm people to keep the city in check," Stewart explained.

The first day that he, officers from the Baltimore and New York departments and a Pennsylvania State Police trooper went to start their new mission, they knew they had their work cut out for them.

"When we first came in, their community had burnt down their police department and stole everything," he said. "They stole the police cars and we had to go back and seize the vehicles back."

He said they bought paint and repainted them with a patch on the vehicles so civilians would know "This is the police."

As they rebuilt the station, any weapons from Iraqi citizens taken during combat would go back to the city’s police department.

They started a police academy. The Iraqi officers were given new uniforms and taught hand-to-hand combat of how to fight and protect themselves, how to perform traffic stops and how to administratively run the police department. A new policy manual was written based on examples of departments in America.

"They wanted to be like American police officers," Stewart said. "They wanted to look and wanted to act like Americans. They had the sunglasses and one guy looked like Sipowicz from ‘NYPD Blue.’"

With the help of a translator, not appointed from the military, but one they found on the streets who was against Saddam, the Marines started to break down the cultural and language barriers.

He also helped them out because he knew the streets and knew who to watch out for.

"He told us everything," Stewart said. "He told us who was a bad cop and who was a good cop," explaining that before the Marines came in, corruption in the police department was a major problem.

One of the major stresses came as being only one of four Marines with all of the Iraqis, not knowing who to trust.

"You just never knew where you were driving into, you never knew if it was an ambush," he said.

But as the trust between the Marines and the Iraqis was built, they began to offer the Marines more information, like where a mass grave site, a buried British soldier and where the military’s stored weapons were located.

By the time the Marines left, the shops and markets were back open on the once bare streets with police out on patrols.

"Nasiriyah was where the most fierce fighting was done, but now it’s the most stable area," he said.

After Nasiriyah, the Marines were sent north to the city of Al Shastra to rebuild another department.

"Every night we were shot at," he said. He described one city council meeting in the city where a man walked up and shot five people in front of everyone -- and then got away.

"The police department was scared of the criminals because they had more firepower than us," he said. So, to help the department, the Marines would go out with the city’s officers.

Stewart described one instance where a store was robbed and two people were shot. Then the robbers threw hand grenades and injured four more people. The police found out where the robbers were, but he said the Iraqis wouldn’t go out to get them unless the Marines were with them.

"We got into a chase with them across the roof tops," he said. One of the robbers, armed with a knife, jumped off the roof, but fell and hurt himself enough that Stewart and the police were able to take him into custody.

The other came at them with a sword, but they were able to take him into custody as well.

"The community started having more trust in them that they were able to go out and catch the criminals," he said. In addition the officers saw they could do more things on their own, he said.

Stewart, a 1995 graduate of Downingtown High School and 1999 graduate of West Chester University, joined the Marines in 1995.

He returned from overseas on Aug. 2. He took a weeklong trip to Disney World with his wife, Noelle, before returning to East Whiteland, where he’s been an officer since June 1999.


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