WASHINGTON — Across a wide stretch of dirt and sand, a dozen soldiers lined up in formation, shields at the ready, waiting to be attacked by an opposing force. To the side, another soldier watched them intently, looking for any discrepancies or weaknesses in the formation.
Army Staff Sgt. Jose Saenz is a senior instructor with 1st Army Division West’s 5th Armored Brigade. Along New Mexico’s southern border here, Saenz teaches the use of nonlethal weapons, riot control and other detainee operations tactics to deploying soldiers.
This group of Michigan Army National Guard soldiers is deploying to Afghanistan in the next month, and Saenz knows what they learn in New Mexico will affect every mission they undertake overseas. After the training exercise was finished, he gathered the soldiers together to discuss what could be improved, what worked well and what they’d learned. A New Mexico native, Saenz has been in the military for 18 years, two of which he spent in Iraq. Saenz said his time overseas improved his skills as an instructor. “We actually had direct contact, not only with Iraqi nationals, but also detainees from all around,” he said. “This kind of training was not around when I was a young soldier, and I’m glad I’ve been given the knowledge I have to show these troops out here.”
Saenz is passionate about his job. He laughs and jokes with the soldiers he trains, but also emphasizes how important their mission is. “He tells you what you need to work on, while at the same time telling you what you’re doing right,” said Army Spc. Rebekah Hubers, with the 1776th Military Police Company from Taylor, Mich. “He really motivates us and keeps our energy high, but also keeps us focused on the task at hand.” Army Spc. Luke Langmeyer, also with the 1776th MP Company, explained why Saenz’s training is so important.
“He gets more in-depth,” Langmeyer said. “I didn’t see that back at [advanced individual training]. It’s a good eye-opener … and re-establishes why we train the way we do.” Army Staff Sgt. Thomas St. George, also a 5th Armored Brigade instructor, has worked with Saenz for nearly three years and said he has observed the qualities that make him a unique and capable teacher.
“He makes the training fun, makes it realistic, … and the soldiers respond very well to him,” St. George said. “We try to have a good sense of humor with our training. We believe that if we have a sense of humor with these guys, they’ll pay more attention.”
It is also important that the training is not confusing or too complicated, he added.
“For some of these newer, younger soldiers, it’s a good hands-on experience,” said Army Sgt. Scott Stonebreaker, from the 1776th MP Company. “It’s straightforward. It’s cut and dried. There’s no beating around the bush … and it’ll help them out a lot during detainee ops.”
The Michigan soldiers will be escorting and searching detainees in Afghanistan, and Saenz stressed that they must not let their guard down at any time. “From my experience out there, the detainees were very compliant,” he said. “They were very kind and polite individuals. But, at the same time, at any minute they could explode and turn on you. You let your guard down, they’re going to take advantage of that.”
Saenz is very concerned with making sure he puts the proper information out to the soldiers and the trainees, St. George said. “He makes sure that he’s very clear with his instructions. He’s just an outstanding individual.”
Saenz has two daughters. While the 4‑year-old doesn’t quite understand what Daddy does at work, Saenz said, the 8‑year-old is very curious and proud of her father. “She wants to know everything I do out here,” he said. “And I give her a good idea of what I do [and] how much fun I have.”
As Saenz took a look around the area, soldiers prepared for another training exercise, having made the adjustments that he’d suggested earlier. “It makes me feel very good,” Saenz said. “I can literally sleep well at night. I can feel satisfied of the type of job I do out here. “I know that, at one point or another, I reached out to every one of them,” he added.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)