MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- As America and its allies fight the Global War on Terrorism, employment in urban areas with dense populations becomes a strong possibility for the Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Conducting operations in such close proximity to foreign cultures can carry the risk of unrest and discontent among the local populace, which could lead to dangerous confrontations between troops and civilians.
Nearly 100 Marines and sailors from the 26th MEU's Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marine Regiment, and Low-Altitude Air Defense Platoon recently learned how to safely control hostile civilians and crowds during the Non-Lethal Weapons Course, here, Oct. 11-20.
The course, taught by instructors from the Non-Lethal branch of II Marine Expeditionary Force's Special Operations Training Group, introduced the students to crowd types and dynamics, riot-control formations and tactics, and non-lethal munitions.
The students also learned ways to subdue aggressors using batons and bare hands, elementary techniques that were reinforced at the beginning of each training day.
While the students were taught specific ways to execute the empty-handed body control methods, grasping the concepts of the movements was more important than memorizing a specific routine, said Sgt. James D. Bowker, a non-lethal instructor with SOTG.
"We teach the techniques a certain way, but it's not like [martial arts] where if you step twelve inches the wrong way you're wrong," he explained.
In riot-control formations training, the students learned to organize into formidable groups with a row of protective shield bearers in front, backed by two ranks of Marines bearing M203 grenade launchers and M500 pump-action shotguns loaded with bean bag, ball or foam baton rounds.
Although non-lethal in nature, the munitions the Marines learned to use all had the ability to inflict lethal damage on a target, said Staff Sgt. Lee J. Bruno, a non-lethal instructor.
"Non-lethal is all about intent," he said. "Every munition we use can kill, but the idea is to use them in non-lethal ways."
One of the most important aspects of the riot-control formation training was learning to present a forceful, disciplined image, said Bruno.
"Ninety percent of crowd control is creating that perception of strength," he said. "How well they project that image will determine how much they can influence the mind of a crowd."
The students were also trained in the use of pepper spray, actually receiving a face-full themselves before running through a course of baton and aggressor submission drills.
The idea behind the painful training was to reinforce in the students' minds that they, or their opponents, can continue to function if exposed to the spray, said Bowker.
Ultimately, the key concept of the course was that alternatives to deadly or harmful force exist when Marines are confronted by aggressive civilians, said Bruno.
"We want the students to come away from this course knowing that they can still get that aggressor under control," he said. "But the end result is not a head stomp."
"The end result is that person safe and on the ground in flexi cuffs," he finished.
The group of students was the third set of troops from the MEU to go through the non-lethal course this year, giving the unit nearly 400 Marines and Sailors trained to handle civil unrest, said Capt. Shawn A. Rickrode, 26th MEU Anti-Terrorism Force Protection officer.
Having a large force of troops trained in non-lethal techniques is crucial to the unit being able to accomplish traditional MEU missions including humanitarian assistance, non-combatant evacuation and embassy reinforcement missions, he added.
The non-lethal training was part of the MEU's rigorous six-month pre-deployment training program, which will culminate in a scheduled 2007 deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
For more on the 26th MEU, including videos, news updates and contact information, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu