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In the News

News | Sept. 25, 2008

Marine Forces Europe Demonstrate Non-Lethal Weapons Capabilities

By Donna Miles American Forces Press Service

STUTTGART, Germany – Marine Forces Europe today showcased its non-lethal weapons program, which program manager Lt. Col. Holden Dunham told visiting civilian leaders brings unique capability to U.S. European Command in circumstances that demand less than deadly force.

The Marine Corps is the Defense Department’s executive agent for non-lethal weapons and devices that intimidate or inflict pain or discomfort, but don’t kill, Dunham told the business, government and community leaders on a tour of U.S. bases in Europe this week as part of the department’s Joint Civilian Orientation Conference.

Within the command, the Marines are responsible for identifying non-lethal requirements and filling those needs through direct, off-the-shelf purchases or development programs.

Visiting the command’s headquarters at Panzer Kaserne, the civilians walked among displays of non-lethal weapons ranging from ear-splitting acoustic devices that project noises a quarter-mile away to pepper spray, sting-ball grenades, plastic bullets and Tasers. Many of the devices they saw are being used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These devices can be used individually or together, giving servicemembers an alternative to more violent responses. “These weapons won't kill you, but they'll sure make you cry, ‘uncle,’” Dunham said. “The whole idea behind these is that the effects are reversible.”

“They add that other tool to the toolbox,” agreed Sgt. Joey Lazzerini, who, like Dunham, is a Marine Corps reservist assigned to the command. “They’re the right tools for a situation that you can de-escalate… before it gets to the lethal realm.”

Dunham described the challenge his Marines confronted during their 2004 deployment to Ramadi, Iraq. Suicide bombers had been storming checkpoints and inflicting heavy casualties. Marines manning the checkpoints knew every approaching vehicle could be another attack, and were ready to react.

If a driver didn’t immediately respond to orders to stop, the Marines had split seconds to determine if the driver was taking offensive action, or simply didn’t understand what he was being asked to do.

Non-lethal weapons – such as arresting nets that attach to tires and lock up axles – can give troops the critical extra seconds to make that determination. “Without non-lethal weapons, the only option would be to use lethal force,” Dunham said.

Non-lethal weapons don’t eliminate the use of deadly force, and all Marines are trained to apply deadly force when necessary to protect themselves and their comrades. “Non-lethal weapons don’t restrict his rules of engagement, they just give him more options,” Dunham said. “We want to give them a force continuum.”

The Marines provide training in non-lethal weapons to U.S. and allied troops throughout European Command.

Shellie Solomon, chief operations officer for Justice and Security Strategies, a consulting firm that specializes in law enforcement policy, said she was impressed to see the level at which the departments of Defense and Justice are working together to advance non-lethal weapons technology. “These tools provide both law enforcement and soldiers with a continuum of force that results in saved lives,” she said.

The JCOC group’s next stop today was to Special Operations Command Europe, where members saw a demonstration of military operations in urban terrain, fired special operations weapons and visited with a special operations unit.

The first U.S. defense secretary, James V. Forrestal, created the JCOC program in 1948 to introduce civilian "movers and shakers" with little or no military exposure to the workings of the armed forces. Nearly six decades later, it remains DoD's premier civic leader program.