Story by SSgt. Brandon Haught,
MEU Public Affairs Chief
A siren blares. A line of Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, carrying shields and armed with batons, jog into place facing a hostile crowd. They bang a loud rhythm on their shields with the batons as more Marines, carrying M16A2 service rifles with M203 grenade launchers attached, take up positions behind them. Yet another line of Marines armed with shotguns fills in another row.
The grenade launchers and shotguns are loaded, but not with the standard ammunition. Rubber fin-stabilized bullets and stinger grenades packed with 100 small rubber balls are the non-lethal choice for this training scenario.
The loud siren, shield banging, organized movements, and non-lethal rounds are all meant to accomplish two things: intimidate the crowd and modify their behavior so that they stop what they are doing or prevent hostilities from getting worse.
The majority of K Company, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 3/6, along with small detachments from other BLT units, saw just how intimidating a non-lethal force can be 1-11 June at the Special Operation Training Group (SOTG) compound, aboard Stone Bay. During the two-week course, the 170 Marines received classes on the weapons and techniques they would be using. They then got plenty of practical-application time firing the weapons, and finally finished off the course with platoon and company size riot control formations.
PFC Ken Irvine, from K Co. and a Montgomery, Pa. native, learned a lot from the training and knew exactly what the purpose of non-lethal weapon use was. "We let them know that if they don’t comply, we will get them and keep them under control," he said. Irvine liked firing the shotgun best but was equally confident in using any of the weapons.
Cpl. Jon Beck, from K Co. and a Rock Hill, S.C. native, was impressed with the training he got while at the SOTG compound. "I gained a lot of confidence in the systems the Marine Corps provided and in the Marines around me; they know what they’re doing and so do I."
Beck also had a new appreciation for the proportional force the non-lethal weapons provides the Marines. Each Marine carries both non-lethal and lethal ammunition. The non-lethal ammunition is very clearly marked and is carried in separate pouches from the lethal rounds. The use of proportional force is basically the decision as to which non-lethal round to use or even the decision to go to lethal force.
"If a hostile crowd just has rocks and sticks, then we can just use non-lethal weapons. But if someone shows up with a machinegun, then we’re going to switch to lethal force. It’s a judgement call," said Beck.
With the introduction of non-lethal weapons into the Marine Corps inventory, choices that weren’t available a few years ago are now available to commanders. The BLT 3/6 weapons platoon commander, K Co. 2ndLt. David Moran, from South Burlington, Vt., said that the only option for controlling riots in the past was to fix bayonets.
"We definitely have confidence in our increased capabilities over bayonets," said Moran. With today’s weapons, Marines can keep rioters at a safe distance. "We don’t want them on our shields. The farther back they are the better."
Sergeant Justin Murray, a mortar section leader with weapons platoon, K Co., BLT 3/6, and a Sanbornville, N.H. native, was sure that once rioters see Marines aiming their weapons, the rioters would probably want to back off. He played the part of an aggressor during a company-sized formation practice.
"It was real impressive to see the company formation," said Murray. "They didn’t fire at us, of course, but having 27 M203’s and then 27 shotguns point in your direction -- it’s real intimidating just seeing it."
Intimidation is a very effective weapon when dealing with an unorganized group. Irvine was sure that it didn’t even matter if the Marines didn’t speak the rioters’ language.
"They see you’re in sync, and they see what you’re carrying, it doesn’t matter if they don’t speak English. They know we mean business," said Irvine.
All the Marines going through the training also get down to business with a dose of oleoresin capsicum aerosol, better known as pepper spray. Each Marine is sprayed for less than a second in the face. Despite the short exposure, the effects last at least 15 to 20 minutes.
"It was the worst experience of my life," said Murray in reference to being exposed to the pepper spray. "I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy." That kind of reaction is precisely why the Marines are sprayed; since they know what it feels like, they will be more likely to think twice before using it on others.
With the awful experience of pepper spray and the full two weeks of intense non-lethal weapons training now behind them, Marines of the 22nd MEU are trained, confident, and ready to take on the next challenge in preparation for deployment in September.