Army Sgt. First Class Perry J. Hopkins knows that an Indiana University education can help you to succeed anywhere.
Hopkins, a 1998 criminal justice graduate of the IU Northwest School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), is currently serving a tour of duty in Iraq, where he is the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of Detainee Operations for the 300th MP Brigade. The 1992 Merrillville High School graduate helps to facilitate the release, intake and transfer of detainees – suspected insurgents, criminals, and others who are believed to pose a security risk to U.S. personnel or Iraqi citizens.
Hopkins’ duties include a great deal of planning, logistics and management of personnel in operations that involve hundreds of soldiers, ground vehicles and air transport. There are approximately 20,000 detainees in Iraq, with hundreds being transferred or released daily, according to an official U.S. military estimate. Hopkins credited IU Northwest’s SPEA program with providing him the knowledge base and skill set necessary to achieve his ambitious daily objectives.
“My job is a lot of organization, a lot of delegation, and a lot of coordinating,” Hopkins said during a July 8 phone interview from Iraq. “IU Northwest teaches you organization. You can’t really get a degree without being organized. They teach you a lot of important work skills, such as interviewing and professional business skills, and communication skills. One thing IU Northwest really helped me with was my writing. No matter what degree you receive, IU Northwest gives you a well-rounded education … and the skills you need to succeed when you basically just have to get up and go.”
Hopkins’ writing skills have proven especially useful in Iraq, where he writes training manuals for U.S. troops on topics such as communication, avoiding manipulation and operational awareness. As a veteran reservist who served a two-year stint in the U.S. Army after high school, then re-enlisted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Hopkins feels that his experience and leadership are important assets to his brigade.
“What encouraged me to serve again was basically the need that the Army had for someone with my skills and my experience during what was essentially a time of war,” said Hopkins, who began his civilian career as a corrections officer 14 years ago. “It’s great to have new recruits, and the Army needs that, but you also need seasoned veterans to help guide and train the new troops, and show leadership.”
Leadership is one quality Hopkins said he developed as a student in SPEA’s criminal justice program. He credited the late SPEA lecturer and police officer Gary Martin with teaching him much about law enforcement and criminal justice, and said that Martin was easily the best teacher he’d ever had. Hopkins also fondly recalled the guidance of Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Joe Pellicciotti, J.D., who was, at that time, director of SPEA. And Hopkins reminisced about his classes with Professor Emeritus George C. Roberts, Ph.D., with whom he enjoyed the occasional clash of political ideas.
“Prof. Roberts and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on much,” Hopkins said. “He was a big Democrat, and I’m a conservative Republican. It made for some interesting classroom conversations.”
While enrolled at IU Northwest, Hopkins worked as an officer with the Indiana Department of Corrections at its Westville facility. Upon graduation, he was promoted to the position of counselor. He later joined the North Central Correctional Institution in Marion, Ohio, where Hopkins was promoted to the rank of lieutenant after only four years.
“My years in corrections, along with the skills I gained at IU Northwest, have helped me provide valuable insight on detainee and correction operations to the 300th MP Brigade,” he said.
Hopkins still lives in Ohio with his wife, Jayme, and his 3-year-old son, Adam. Though he is stationed thousands of miles away, Hopkins speaks to his family almost daily, he said.
“Communication is very much encouraged here,” Hopkins explained. “The leadership encourages us to have contact with our families on a daily basis.”
Although Hopkins and his fellow MPs interact with many detainees who are suspected of insurgent acts or other suspicious activity, he said that his experiences in Iraq have been mostly positive. He described the Iraqi people generally as being friendly and hospitable.
“Getting to see the Iraqi people gain hope after years of oppression made a difference to me,” Hopkins said. “Some of the local people thanked me for helping them, even though my role is very minimal. That was a great feeling.”
As for the detainees themselves, the U.S. military’s stated goal is to offer them education and vocational training to provide alternatives to rejoining the insurgency, and to release individuals who are assessed to no longer pose a threat to military personnel or other Iraqis. Coalition forces release a net of 20 detainees daily, according to official estimates.
“In May, I assisted in coordinating the biggest release month in our history,” Hopkins said. “It was a big deal to me.”
Hopkins said life in Iraq is not bad, considering the heat and the distance from family and friends. Temperatures so far this week have been in the low 100s, he said, a veritable cold snap for a region that frequently approaches 120 degrees in summer. U.S. forces are well fed, Hopkins said, and the recent Fourth of July holiday brought a special treat for a guy who grew up on Chicago’s South Side: authentic Chicago pizza.
“That was probably the best meal I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Hopkins, who arrived in Iraq near the end of January 2008. He expects to return home in October.
Hopkins credited his IU Northwest education with preparing him to achieve the successes he has enjoyed in his military and civilian careers. He chose IU Northwest, he said, because he believed the quality and prestige of an IU degree would establish a strong foundation for a future career in law enforcement.
“Also, it was close by, an easy campus to get to,” he said. “And, because of the way they set up their classes, I was able to work and go to school at the same time.
“The SPEA instructors made sure we had all the information necessary to make it in the world,” Hopkins added. “I learned how to take an issue and look at it from all sides before making a decision.”