SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – It was 20 times more painful, more debilitating, than any electrical shock she had ever experienced. Yet, a few minutes later, Arkansas National Guard state Command Sgt. Maj. Deborah Collins was walking and talking as normally as if she had never had a shocking encounter with one of the newest weapons available to the National Guard.
Collins took part in a demonstration of nonlethal weapons during the National Guard Bureau's first Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference here in mid-April. She let herself be zapped, or "tased," for a single second by a Taser X26, one of the devices the Guard now has for controlling unruly people without badly hurting them.
Nonlethal weapons, the Army Guard's state command sergeants major and the Air Guard's state command chief master sergeants were told, give suitably-trained Guard personnel the ability to protect property after a hurricane or tornado, for example, without resorting to deadly force.
Every state Guard organization now has a nonlethal weapons kit that includes heavy plastic shields, Tasers and weapons that can fire blunt-force rounds and tear-gas grenades designed to control crowds without inflicting serious injuries. The kits are stored in green, mobile containers.
"The policies and practices are still being developed, and our Guard people still need proper training," explained Maj. Tom White from the National Guard Bureau. "All but six states have nonlethal weapons instructors," added White, noting how seriously the Guard is subscribing to this idea of alternative force.
"Under United States law, the National Guard of each state is the only entity that can employ military force in support of civil authorities unless the president declares martial law," the group was reminded.
"These nonlethal weapons are not a substitute for firearms. You don't take a Taser to a gunfight," White observed. "But if they are used early enough, we can prevent the escalation to violence."
Collins discovered that for herself during the very long second that she was tased with the X26.
"I really didn't know what to expect. That's why I wanted to do it. It was immediate, intense pain," she explained. "For that one second, I don't remember anything but that pain. I had no thoughts about anything else. You know how you get shocked sometimes? Multiply that by at least 20 times."
The Taser technology, which has been used since the late 1970s, is described as an electrical muscular disruption device. A one-second jolt will bring a grown man to his knees. The standard charge from an X26 lasts for five seconds, which can be administered in one- to two-second increments with a pistol grip to keep a subject under control.
Collins fared better than the three Guardsmen who also subjected themselves to the device, perhaps because women can withstand that kind of pain better than men, it was explained. She remained on her feet. The men fell to the ground.
"It's a good idea to use this equipment. You can control the situation without doing permanent damage to somebody, especially during a civil disturbance," she observed later. "The Guard is charged to help maintain order, but [those creating the disturbance] are citizens, too."
The nonlethal weapons are to be used with discretion by trained personnel, cautioned Command Sgt. Maj. David Ray Hudson, the National Guard Bureau’s senior enlisted leader and a retired Alaska State Trooper captain.
"We have equipment out there that we are not adequately trained on," Hudson told the state enlisted leaders. "It's up to you to make sure your people get trained."