1 October 2016, Oct. 1, 2016 —
Adrenaline was high on both sides of the line of people that faced one another on a hot September day at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Topeka. Hands trembled and knees with the rush that overtook their bodies.
On one side, rioters yelled obscenities, proclaiming their right to protest. On the other, a military force made up of Army and Air National Guardsmen in battle gear, armed with shields and batons, moved in unison to the cadence, “One…two…three…get back! One…two…three…get back!”
As the afternoon progressed, the rioters became more and more violent, crowding the line, punching and kicking the shields, as they attempted to rush through to create chaos and confusion.
The Guardsmen responded with techniques they learned at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Topeka Sept. 17-18.
The brawl was the capstone to a weekend of civil disturbance training that brought together the 184th Security Forces Squadron, the 190th Security Forces Squadron and the 35th Military Police Company.
“The joint training allows us to be ready and prepared if we were to be called to some sort of civil disturbance situation,” said Army First Sgt. Michael Barber, 35th MP Company, Kansas Army National Guard.
The weekend included individual skills training on Saturday that covered pressure point control tactics, and hand-to-hand and baton techniques used to subdue opponents.
The training on Sunday began with team instruction. The Guardsmen intermixed to learn how to operate arrest teams and march the line forward as one intimidating and effective force.
“We’re working on movements; how we want to move during a riot, whether you’re in the front line or you’re part of a snatch team,” said Army Staff Sgt. Glenn Carter, disturbance training instructor, 35th Military Police Company.
The Soldiers and Airmen were tested Sunday afternoon against the class instructors and other Guardsmen who played parts as rioters.
They thundered in unison, “One…two…three…get back!”
When skirmishers got too close, the Guardsmen used their batons to create space. Noncommissioned officers and team commanders stayed directly behind the line shouting commands to maintain the force’s integrity and strength.
Seven-man arrest teams were strategically positioned behind the line waiting for opportunities to rush through and “snatch” protestors. They pulled the rioters back behind the line, wrestled them to the ground and handcuffed them.
“The purpose of what we call a snatch team is to go out ahead of the line and remove those leaders to help quell the situation,” said Carter, who is also an officer with the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department.
“When you go to most demonstrations there’s usually those people who are in charge of the demonstration itself,” said Barber. “If you can pinpoint those and get them out of the area, it helps to mitigate all of the rest of the field and it starts to push them out of the area.”
The riot was conducted in segments with 15-minute water breaks and instruction in between. With every round, the protestors became more and more unruly. However, each round also resulted in significant improvements in the military force’s confidence and ability.
By the end of Sunday afternoon, three separate law enforcing units evolved into one unified force that successfully thwarted the advances of a violent and disruptive mob.
“When you come out here and actually see what it looks like, and see the flaws that can come with it, you correct those before you have to go into a field environment,” said Staff Sgt. Dean Keith, 184th Security Forces Squadron, and officer with the Wichita Police Department. “If or when we get called up, we’re going to be ready for it.”