Harley-Davidson on Patrol with U.S. Military Police Corps
With a need for rapid response and agility, MPs have used Harley-Davidson motorcycles since 1918.
Harley-Davidson and the U.S. Military have a long history together — one that dates back to the early-1900s. For over a century, the U.S. Army has relied on Harley-Davidson motorcycles in all major conflicts from Europe to Vietnam. The Military Police Corps, in particular, has maintained the use of motorcycles more than any other branch of the service.
The Military Police Corps is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Army. The corps has an irregular history dating back to the War of Independence. Formalized at the start of the Second World War as a centrally-directed and unified organization, the corps' responsibilities extended to wherever U.S. troops were stationed. Purchased in bulk from Harley-Davidson, the iconic WLA soon became the vehicle of choice for the corps.
Military Police, commonly referred to as MPs, are also known as Master-at-Arms in the Navy and Security Forces Specialist in the Air Force. In today's army, MPs are employed at every major base and installation, both domestic and foreign. Similar to domestic police officers, MPs protect people and property, enforce military laws, conduct traffic control, and respond to emergencies.
The Army categorizes an MP's job as a 'military occupational specialty' or MOS 31B — otherwise known as 31 Bravo. Just as in the past, an MP's job description changes while overseas or in a hostile zone. In addition to performing their regular duties, MPs also act as infantry with duties that include running combat operations, convoy escort, area security, and intelligence operations.
The use of motorcycles by the Military Police Corps can be traced back to 1918. Under wartime legislation, Congress had authorized the establishment of a Military Police force. Consisting of 205 officers and men, the unit was equipped with 50 horses, 6 mules, 1 wagon, 18 motorcycles, and 105 bicycles. At the time, it was one of the most mobile organizations in the Army.
The Military Police Corps' relationship with motorcycles comes from a need for speed and mobility. This agility requirement has not changed since the first 'provost unit' was formed in 1778. With a name borrowed from the French, the Marechaussee Corps was a specialized horse-mounted infantry accoutered as light dragoons and assigned to General George Washington.
Another military-specific Harley-Davidson was the Sportster XLA. Unlike the combat-ready WLA, the XLA was only ever intended for Military Police patrols. Except for the olive drab paint, the XLA was almost identical to the civilian 883cc four-speed XL model. Early XLA models used a square 'oilbath' air cleaner, a feature that was later replaced with the standard round model.
At the end of the Second World War, the Military Police Corps numbered over 200,000. It has since evolved to be an indispensable branch of the U.S. Military with dedicated training schools and worldwide deployment. Harley-Davidson is still at the forefront after almost eighty years of service. A fact confirmed by this MP using a Road King to work over a pylon during a safety course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
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