Non-lethal weapons training a tear-jerking experience

17 Mar 2004 | Pfc. Christopher J. Ohmen

Non-lethal training is becoming an important tool in the Marine Corps’ toolbox with new and old deployments developing and continuing around the world, including to Haiti and to Iraq.The two-week non-lethal weapons trainer course started March 17 at the II Marine Expeditionary Force, Special Operations Training Group, Non-Lethal Weapons/Military Operations Other Than War Section at Stone Bay.The students came from units all over Camp Lejeune to go through 16 classes, approximately 30 hours, on a variety of topics: Oleoresin Capsicum (pepper spray) usage, crowd control, formations for crowd control, collapsible baton training, non-lethal shotgun and 40mm usage, stinger ball grenade use, vehicle searches, and checkpoint tactics.After the first day of classes at the SOTG compound, the students were sprayed with OC and then made to negotiate a short combat punching bag course while under the effects of the spray.The Marines were told to stand at the position of attention and close their mouth and eyes. They received a short burst from the MK-4 canister of OC across the face from left to right.“The minute you open your eyes is when the pain hits,” said Sgt. John J. Megahan, Charlie Co, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.The first thing on the course was to do 10 jumping jacks and 10 pushups before you moved to the first station.The first bag station on the course was front and rear hand punches. The Marines had to move about 20 feet from where they were sprayed to the first punching bag. The person holding the bag moved around to force the Marine to open their eyes inducing the full effects of the spray. While trying to land the punches they had to tell the bag holder to ‘get back,’ with authority.The other three stations were forearm strikes, front kicks, and ‘keep your guard-up.’ Marines were told at every station to tell the aggressor, the bag holder, what to do while performing the station’s action.By the second or third station the Marines had opened their eyes at least once and the crystals in the OC spray had started to dry out the tear ducts.‘Water is only a temporary relief’ was said many times over the megaphone by two or three of the instructors.“The best way to stop the burning is to flutter your eyes while facing into the wind,” said Sgt. Matt Gibson, instructor, Non-lethal Weapons/ Military Operations Other Than War Section, SOTG. “That will help start the production of fluid in the eyes again, which in turn flushes out the crystals. It takes about forty-five minutes before you are able to function normally again.”The non-lethal weapons user and trainer courses are run throughout the year. In a one-year period a total of 500-plus Marines go through one or both of the courses.This kind of training is crucial for those who are in Iraq and Haiti, said Gibson. Many Marines that were in Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom and may be scheduled to go back overseas have gone or will be going through one of these courses due to a change in the standard operating procedure.“This gives Marines an alternative other than going straight to deadly force,” Gibson said. “Non-lethal weapons are a bridge between hand-to-hand combat and deadly force.”