22d MEU Marines learn to deliver a less-than-lethal punch

25 Sep 2003 |

In the near future, on a rubble and litter-strewn street in some desolate Third World country, a Marine from the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit may be faced with the hardest decision of his or her life; how best to deal with an unruly, angry, and potentially violent mob heading toward their position.

Should they withdraw?  Stand their ground?  Or in some extreme cases, should they fire into the crowd?

It's a scenario that is becoming all too common, and has plagued Marines in such places as Haiti, Somalia, Liberia, and most recently, Iraq.  In order to provide the Marines and Sailors of the 22d MEU with the knowledge and skills to properly deal with such a situation, approx. 400 members of the unit have recently undergone a Non-Lethal Weapons and Tactics Course (NLWTC) aboard Camp Lejeune.

The course, taught by the II Marine Expeditionary Force's Special Operations Training Group (SOTG), teaches a variety of crowd management skills that can be employed when a verbal warning is not enough and a bullet is too much.  Topics covered during the course include how to spot and counter aggressive behavior, self defense techniques, how to conduct vehicle and personnel searches, the use of roadblocks, and the employment of pepper spray and non-lethal impact munitions.

Staff Sgt. Ronald E. Parrish, Jr., an instructor for the course, said his most difficult task is to take the Marines out of the 'war-fighter' mode.

"This course is centered on controlling and restraining a hostile individual rather than injuring them," said Parrish.  "Marines are often taught to kill the enemy and to destroy things, but in this course we teach them to control a situation without using deadly force."

As a caveat to being taught the value of non-lethal weapons, the Marines were reminded that non-lethal weapons are not a substitute for deadly force and are used proportionately to the threat they are facing.  These rules were hammered home repeatedly throughout the course, and at a rules of engagement class.

The course was offered to the MEU twice, and the unit took full advantage of the opportunity, sending a rifle company and the artillery battery from its ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines.   According to Gunnery Sgt. William R. Frye, company gunnery sergeant for BLT 1/6's artillery battery, the NLWTC is an integral part of their pre-deployment training.

"Humanitarian and mass casualty operations are some of our collateral missions with the MEU, so obviously the Marines are taking this training very seriously," said Frye, a native of Richmond, Virginia.  "You can tell by their enthusiasm that the Marines are happy to be doing this training and be part of the MEU."

Other Marines echoed the importance the Marines have placed on the training.

"I think all Marines should go through this training because of how much this stuff is being used in countries where we are trying to keep peace," said Lance Cpl. James Murphy, of Warren, Mass., an artilleryman with BLT 1/6.

The culminating event of the two-week course is a two-day training exercise that pits the students against unruly mobs (played by other Marines) at Camp Lejeune's urban combat training facility, also known as 'combat town.'

"The STX was the best part of the training," said Lance Cpl. Allen S. Lewis, of Pensacola, Florida, a rifleman serving with C Co., BLT 1/6.  "The OpFor [opposing force] did a great job making the scenario realistic.  They gave us hassle after hassle, making it very difficult for us to maneuver.  They made sure we knew what we were doing."

For others, it was the first part of the course that was the most memorable.  On day one, they were taught how to use Oleoresin Capsicum, which is the technical name for 'pepper spray.'  After being instructed on how to use the chemical agent, the Marines themselves were sprayed to enjoy the full impact.

"It was the worst experience of my life," said Lance Cpl. Charles G. Poag, of Asheville, N.C., a combat cameraman serving with the MEU Command Element.  "You'd have to threaten me with NJP [non-judicial punishment] to make me go through that again.  It'll definitely take the fight out of someone."

And that is what the MEU is counting on.

For more information on the organization, mission, and status of the 22d MEU, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.
22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit