CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – Riots and civil disturbances don’t just happen out of thin air. The anatomy of a riot is much like that of a Molotov cocktail. Both are created by instigators who add fuel and fire to combustible materials to provoke mayhem. Take one of these elements away and a riot dies.
How to remove one of these elements to diffuse a riot is one of the biggest lessons Marines and Sailors from G Battery, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, learned during an intensive 54-hour non-lethal weapons training course here.
The 11th MEU, from Camp Pendleton, Calif., is training in Kuwait as part of their scheduled six-month deployment through the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf region.
“The decision to use force and how much force to use is always a tough one,” said Cpl. William H. Anderson, a fire direction control man from Sonora, Calif. This training has definitely prepared Marines to make the right choice. “It’s by far the best non-lethal weapons training I have ever seen.”
The training was provided by The Densus Group, an American company that uses British Army veterans who have extensive experience in dealing with public order, crowd control and riots gained in tours in Northern Ireland.
“Our aim was to give the Marines realistic training and give them the skills and knowledge to handle all types of disorder up to lethal force,” said Adam Leggat, senior instructor.
The Marines were told to be as physical and aggressive as possible while staying within safety standards. They were more than happy to oblige.
During one exercise, Marines in full-riot gear moved through a gauntlet of stations in which they had to defend themselves against other Marines who were acting as rioters. The rioters hid inside and behind buildings and attacked the Marine or group of Marines who had to repel the attack by employing self-defense techniques they were previously taught.
“We weren’t holding back,” said Sgt. Joshua A. Draveling, section chief, from Milwaukee, Wisc., “A few Marines got some scrapes and bruises, but it was nothing a little peroxide and band aids couldn’t fix.”
Marines train like they fight, so making it as real as possible was important, said Gunnery Sgt. John D. Vest, battery gunnery sergeant, G Battery, from Houston, TX.
All of the instructors from Densus have stood “the line” and have used these tactics and techniques in real riots. Their system works and has been battle-tested.
Team members Andy Hinchincliffe, John Crawford, David Bruce and Leggat, all from the United Kingdom of Great Britain, embedded with G Battery in order to provide them with unprecedented level of access, said Kohler.
During classroom and field exercises Marines like Lance Cpl. Adam J. Jill, radio operator, G Battery, from Bay City, Mich., learned about crowd dynamics, negotiating, media handling and how to move and work as a team to control a crowd’s behavior.
A crowd in a combat environment is like a powder keg that can be set off with the tiniest of sparks. An angry group of individuals can quickly turn a mob into a riot, said Jill. “You have to know when to negotiate and when to be aggressive.”
Jill, who prior to the training felt more at ease sending radio transmissions, said he now feels just as confident in his ability to analyze a situation and spot the signs that things are headed for the worse.
“Reading individual behavior and knowing the dynamics of a crowd is vital to successful crowd control”, said Christopher G. Blalock, commanding officer, G Battery.
The key is finding a balance between using a stick to deal with the hardcore rioters and offering a carrot in negotiations with bystanders and those sitting on the fence who make up the majority, said Blalock.
When negotiations don’t work, Marines have to be prepared to escalate their use of force to establish order and prevent the injury or death of Marines and civilians, said Leggat.
During the week-long training in the desert and at Camp Buehring, the Marines spent countless hours learning proper striking and control techniques, striking points, and how to defend themselves against petrol-bombs. They practiced on each other so that they could know what it feels like to strike and be struck by a baton, debris or kicked by a rioter, said LCpl. Jared M. Frost, cannoneer, from Seattle.
The training culminated with a final exercise that involved three elaborate scenarios. In one, the Marines had to fly into a war-torn nation to defend the American Embassy and evacuate American citizens and other third-country nationals. A second involved returning to a hostile area to retrieve a family who did not make it to the evacuation site. The third involved restoring order to an area occupied by two groups at odds with each other.
Instructors controlled the crowd to test the Marines’ ability to apply the appropriate level of force in each scenario. They gradually turned up the pressure on the Marine force.
At the conclusion of the final exercise, the Marines huddled to discuss what they had learned.
Draveling said the biggest take-away for him was the re-affirmation of what he already knew, that small unit leadership and teamwork is vital during these types of missions.
Regardless of what team they were on, each Marine had to protect the man to his left and right, said Draveling. “We had to be quick on our feet to move our team to cover other teams who were in danger.”
“In a real riot,” said Draveling. “If we don’t watch out for each other, some of us may not make it back.”