FORT DRUM, N.Y. – Having non-lethal capabilities is a valuable asset to soldiers in combat, because even the most hostile situation can be resolved without lethal measures, Army Staff Sgt. Eric Johnson said during non-lethal capabilities training and equipment fielding here last week.
“We definitely could’ve used this equipment and training on my previous deployments,” said Johnson, an infantryman who has deployed three times to Iraq and is preparing to deploy a fourth time to Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team after the new year.
Johnson and about 50 other 10th Mountain Division soldiers representing the 2nd and 3rd BCTs here participated in a weeklong Non-Lethal Capabilities Set issue and training. Each brigade was issued the set and soldiers learned how to react in threatening and hostile environments without immediately resorting to lethal force, he said.
With the brigade-issued set, soldiers have new capabilities -- equipment and training -- to react to hostile situations while operating in a convoy, manning checkpoints, on dismounted patrols, during detainee operations and during riots.
Johnson was somewhat discouraged when he learned he had to attend the weeklong training because he thought non-lethal training was geared more for military police. The first day of training changed his mind.
“I’ve realized that the class is geared toward everyone who deploys to theater now,” he said. “You don’t need lethal force every single time you go out in sector, and this training shows that we have the means and ability to employ non-lethal capabilities.”
Johnson and the other soldiers were introduced to weapons and munitions that, even though they’re non-lethal, may still be as effective as live ammunition. The soldiers became familiar with non-lethal shotgun and grenade launcher rounds as well as Tasers.
“The ammunition and Tasers we learned to use are great assets, because they’re not going to hurt anybody,” Johnson said. “For a split second, you’re going to contain them and get the necessary results and their attention without taking a life or seriously injuring anyone.”
Johnson described a possible situation soldiers manning a checkpoint may face. They are taught to disable a vehicle if it is approaching the checkpoint too fast or ignoring warning signs to stop. Whether the situation results in the soldiers shooting the tires or killing the driver, the threat and possibility of the vehicle being a car bomb is too high not to react, he said.
But with the additional non-lethal capabilities, soldiers have the opportunity to be effective without causing unnecessary collateral damage and death or serious injuries. Soldiers can employ several non-lethal options before escalating to lethal force, he said.
One new option is the portable vehicle arrest barrier, which is basically a large cargo net stored inside a speed bump. Once it’s activated, it can stop a 5-ton vehicle traveling 45 mph by wrapping around the vehicle and locking the rear axle. Soldiers can stop a speeding vehicle in its tracks without ever having to expend live ammunition, he said.
The set also has two sets of spike strips, one that soldiers can set up in advance and another they can roll out suddenly in a matter of seconds to disable a vehicle.
Army Sgt. Bryan Temple, an infantryman with 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd BCT, recalled his previous deployment to Iraq and stressed how useful the non-lethal training and equipment would’ve been, especially the voice response translators and Taser guns, he said.
The translators can sync to eight users’ voices and translate more than 350 phrases in 18 languages, including Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashtun.
During Temple’s previous deployment, his interpreters wouldn’t enter a building until after the soldiers secured it. But with the translation device, soldiers can communicate clearly with the locals without using an interpreter. And with the Taser, soldiers can neutralize an aggressive occupant without causing serious injury, Temple said.
“I think we’re going to be able to implement a lot of this training into our upcoming mission to Afghanistan,” Temple said. “I think a lot of the techniques and devices that we’ve learned … will definitely come into play.
“The more tools that we have available to us and the more junior and senior leadership we have to go through these types of classes and learn how to implement them in real life situations, the better off we can be.”
10th Mountain Division’s 2nd and 3rd BCTs were the seventh and eighth brigades to receive the Non-Lethal Capabilities Set. The set was produced by the Defense Department’s Program Executive Office Ammunition and costs just more than $1 million. Fielding began in July to units getting ready for deployment. Every brigade combat team and military police brigade is expected to have the issue in about 18 months, officials said.