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NEWS | April 20, 2010

Guardsmen conducts nonlethal weapons training in Iraq

By Spc. Edward Siguenza Texas National Guard

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - Even here, citizen Soldiers still emphasize responsibilities to the state of California thousands of miles away.

As the 49th Military Police Brigade continues its Operation Iraqi Freedom focus, Soldiers found room to fit in training related to traditional National Guard duties.

Staff Sgt. Jonathan McDonald helms a nonlethal weapons program supported by Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Liles, the 49th command sergeant major. They're taking this program to other National Guard elements, particularly units from Virginia and Alabama, while staying dedicated to the 49th's mission to Iraq.

"Nonlethal weapons training is outlined in our [military occupational specialty] and is the scope of our civic duties," said Liles. "These types of weapons provide a use of force that does not require a lethal option. Not every situation requires a military policeman to utilize deadly force. This training helps MP's choose the appropriate level of force."

Guardsmen get called upon for state missions such as earthquakes, floods and civil disturbances. The latter is what this training is all about.

Not since the 1992 Los Angeles Riots has the Cal Guard been activated for a civil disturbance. But in keeping with the Cal Guard's motto, "Always Ready, Always There," this training falls into place.

Staff Sgt. Jon McDonald and Staff Sgt. Pete Daugherty, supply sergeants for Alabama's 217th Military Police Company, serve as training instructors. Since February, they have given classes.

Participants are trained on various nonlethal weapons and munitions. After passing a written test, the Army students head to a range and fire nonlethal weaponry. This completes the familiarity phase.

"The training is important because it gives commanders an extra level of force to use in their rules of engagement," Daugherty said.

There are different situations such as riots, or where crowd control is needed. You wouldn't want innocent civilians hurt by lethal munitions, so you can employ nonlethal. It's a different tool to use for Soldiers."

"It gives you another option, rather than lethal force, to control a situation that could ultimately be non-deadly," McDonald explained. "You could have a situation where you can use non-lethal rounds and control it. You can have a better outcome using a force that's not deadly."

So far the training has been limited to firing projectiles, notably blunt-trauma rounds that "sting" and cause physical discomfort. Participants fire rubber bullets and projectiles from air-compressed rifles, and standard-issued military small arms rifles.

Targets are simply plywood. After numerous strikes, the targets are cracked and holed.

"Imagine firing that at hostile people. These rounds won't penetrate skin, but they will give painful discomfort," said McDonald. "The intent is not to kill anyone, but to neutralize a situation so people become compliant and order can be restored."

There are several nonlethal weapons. Law enforcement's most popular is the electroshock method, better known by the brand name "Taser," Daugherty explained. This "compliance" form is when an electric shock, aimed at disrupting muscle functions, is lodged into a hostile through a thin, flexible wire. Volunteers will be "tazed" in future training, the instructors explained.

There are hand grenades, or stun grenades, that send out rubber shrapnel, another nonlethal crowd control method. Students are also taught the use of chemical agents, such as pepper spray, tear gas and mace. They learn about the use of older nonlethal methods that are still popular today: the water cannon, darts and of course, the baton.

Liles has a special interest in this course because of his civilian line of duty. He's a correctional sergeant at Tehachapi's California Correctional Institution. He's in a prison system and deals with violence regularly.

"Unfortunately, I have had to utilize all these force options," he said. "All have long lasting effects on the suspect and the individual who applies them."

Department of Defense directive 2000.3 states: "Nonlethal weapons shall not be required to have a zero probability of producing fatalities or permanent injury. When properly employed, nonlethal weapons should significantly reduce fatalities or permanent injury as compared with physically destroying the same target."

"The goal of the training is to expose military police Soldiers to the nonlethal munitions we have in the Army now," Daugherty said. "We showed them the effects and capabilities of nonlethal munitions. Then we let them apply the training taught in class out on the range."

The instructors are taking this program to different places. On schedule is a training session in Basra, Iraq, with the 49th's subordinate units. If time permits, they'll be in northern Iraq by June.

"I hope the participants get a clear understanding that their consequences are everlasting. It will be great if we never had to utilize these options, but history proves that force will have to be used at some point," Liles added. "Deadly force is simply that -- where the intent is solely designed to kill to stop the threat or gain compliance. But deadly force is the last option. Therefore, the MP must exercise the right decision to use nonlethal actions."