By Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 5, 2008 - One would think that with all the hats a camp sheriff has to wear, at least one of them would be a cowboy hat. But the only headgear Army 1st Sgt. Willoughby Mercer wears around here is a patrol cap; all his other hats are tipped to the servicemembers living on Camp Victory.
"Everybody wants you when you're the man out there that can get things done," said Mercer, a native of Philadelphia. "My position facilitates a lot of the open doors for things to happen, to where ... [the mayor cell can] run just like a city hall. In our cell, we have every branch that deals with just about everything in this area."
The mayor cell oversees public works, maintenance, security and more. It operates around the clock, and it enables the camp to do the same.
"We are the central nervous system to what's going on on a daily basis, and to me what's so gratifying is ... when I'm able to resolve an issue ... to where there's a level of satisfaction," Mercer said.
As the camp sheriff, Mercer taps into all kinds of issues to maintain good life on the base: from parking matters and living conditions to traffic violations and force protection. He also enforces safety regulations, camp policies and spreading of information. He also helps with Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs and activities. In fact, as a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Mercer teaches classes to soldiers interested in learning the martial art.
His job in Iraq keeps him busy, but it isn't a position he finds overwhelming, Mercer said.
"Serving in this capacity is not anything new to me," he said. "Being [a military policeman] for 26 years, I've dealt with clientele from all ranks, all branches [and] different organizations," said Mercer, who now lives in Aberdeen, Md.
For the past 10 years, Mercer has served as a first sergeant in the Army Reserve. Ever since joining the Reserve, Mercer also has worked as a police officer in the civilian world. Just before deploying, he worked as a detective in Baltimore for the Maryland state attorney's office.
"Taking those attributes from that job and applying them over here after the years of service I've been an MP, it has helped tremendously," he said, "because I have more of an open demeanor in dealing with people. Some people don't, and they get 'short' real quick. ... I see myself being able to talk to anyone and anybody about anything."
Luckily, Mercer said, his position as sheriff has been more like that of a firefighter than that of a law enforcer.
"You do put out those little fires before they become big fires, or you help facilitate them staying little," he said.
Such fires are not the ones that can occur in soldiers' housing units – those he intends on preventing altogether, he said – but rather, he tries to put out complaints by soldiers so they don't become bigger issues: neighbors being too loud, soldiers taking long showers that cause the hot water to run out, people parking in spots that block traffic. The list can go on and on, he said.
But although the chore of quelling problems can be tedious, Mercer said, he finds satisfaction in the work.
"I take it to heart," he said. "I understand the responsibility behind it."
He also understands he cannot do it all on his own.
"I don't do it myself. I'm only as good as the people that are here, and because they put forth the extra effort and I support them in everything they do here," he said of a group he barely knew before his deployment.
Mercer originally was supposed to deploy with another MP company, he explained, but since the unit they were filling already had a first sergeant and commander, he didn't go. Instead, he was told he had been selected for a sergeant major position to deploy with the 2145th Garrison Support Unit out of Nashville, Tenn. Roughly 80 percent of the unit's members had been cross-leveled to fill specific positions, he said, but he added he immediately felt comfortable with them.
"What was so surprising about that -- after talking and congregating and getting to know one another and talk about your history and background -- I realized that there [were] no egos. People didn't jump out and say, 'Oh, I'm all this, all that.' We just started to jell together as the group."
Now this very group handles the issues of everyday life of a camp with the population of a small town. And it's doing it well, Mercer said, adding that his crew could walk into any city and get the job done there.
"I think we've done a hell of a job," he said. "We're going to continue doing it until the day we leave out of here. Hopefully, we leave a good footprint for our successors, to say, 'We started the ball rolling. It's your turn.'"
(Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret serves in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)