FORT DIX, N.J. – Soldiers of the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team will have available some of the latest non-lethal capabilities to man checkpoints and conduct detainee operations during their upcoming deployment to Iraq.
Roughly $1 million of new equipment, fielded to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard brigade this week during training at Fort Dix, will not only be of use in Iraq but will return with the brigade. The brigade is the first Guard unit to be fielded the entire Brigade Non-lethal Capabilities Set, an official said.
The 56th SBCT Soldiers participated in four days of training in the use of the set, developed largely by the combat developers of the Army non-lethal team. The set is comprised of four mission-specific modules, for checkpoint, convoy, crowd control/detainee operations and dismounted patrolling missions.
Soldiers learned about nets that can stop oncoming vehicles and snake-like cameras that “look” into hard-to-see places, sending video to a display screen mounted on the user’s wrist.
“This is a train-the-trainer course,” said Capt. Curtis Drake, the 56th’s brigade engineer who served as range and facility officer for the training.
“It’s definitely real self explanatory training. It’s new equipment we’ve never worked with before,” Drake said. “Now these soldiers will take this knowledge back to their units.”
Drake said he is especially impressed with a portable net and spike system designed to wrap around the axle of a speeding vehicle, stopping it before it can speed through a checkpoint. The checkpoint equipment system allows for the normal flow of traffic.
Non-lethal systems included in the set range from simple, commercially available items such as bean bag rounds and pepper spray to a high-tech speech translator. Non-lethal systems have been credited with reducing the use of lethal force and reducing collateral damage.
Eric Niver, a trainer from the Army Non-Lethal Scaleable Effects Center, based at the Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. said the Army began fielding the equipment packages this summer under a plan that allows units to put the equipment on their property books, as opposed to having use of the equipment only while in theater.
Niver said having ownership of the equipment will allow the Pennsylvania Guard unit to train on it during weekend drills or annual training periods in the future. The Effects Center develops training programs on the use of non-lethal systems.
“There are a lot of working parts,” Niver said of the training specialists, many of them retired from military service, who work with firms contracted to conduct the on-site training.
Soldiers practiced firing the electric Taser gun. Volunteer students were shot by an instructor with the so-called “stun gun” as part of an exercise designed to demonstrate that those hit by the device are briefly incapacitated but quickly recover.
“This interferes with neuromuscular impulses,” said Tom Martens, technical trainer with Concurrent. “It’s more disorienting than anything. It allows soldiers to safely subdue an individual and take that person into custody.”
Martens said recovery time is typically less than a minute.
Jeff Teats, a training specialist with MNET (Munitions and New Equipment Training), Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., said up to 50 percent of students typically volunteers to be “Tased.”
The Pennsylvania Guard soldiers brought their civilian experience to the training.
“They did very well. Obviously we have a lot of experience here, a lot of senior NCOs and a lot of law enforcement guys on the civilian side, so they’re familiar with shotguns and other weapon systems,” said David Fadl, one of the non-lethal instructors.
Other objects in the non-lethal system set include acoustic hailing devices, portable light sets and riot control equipment. Soldiers practiced on the firing range with non-lethal rounds fired from shotguns and grenade launchers.
“There are two types of round. One’s a point round, meaning it’s a non-lethal round for an individual, the other is a crowd dispersal round,” Fadl said. “The crowd dispersal round is almost like birdshot (small metal shot), but using rubber balls.”
Staff Sgt. Javier Garcia, Headquarters Troop, 2-104th Cav., of Mount Pocono, Pa., said going into the training he knew what a Taser is but was not familiar with other non-lethal systems.
“There are a lot of instances in which we could use this equipment over there,” he said.
“It’s one more method we could use before having to use lethal force.”
“It’s definitely going to save lives. We definitely need this kind of equipment on our bases,” he said. This gives you another opportunity; it’s the second to the last, lethal resort.”
Soldiers completing the training are provided with a memo denoting their completion of the course.
About 4,000 56th SBCT Soldiers are slated to deploy to Iraq in February.