In the News

News | May 12, 2007

U.S., Thai Marines learn how bean-bags, paintballs can save lives

By Sgt. Ethan E. Rocke U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific

BAN CHAN KREM TRAINING AREA, Thailand – Give a child a bean bag, and he’ll probably sit on it or kick it around. Give a U.S. Marine a bean bag, and he’ll put it in a shotgun and shoot something.

At least that’s what about 140 Okinawa-based Marines did at Thailand’s Ban Chan Krem Training Area May 12. The detachment of Marines from several III Marine Expeditionary Force units is currently participating in the annual, multilateral exercise Cobra Gold. Cobra Gold is an annual, multinational exercise, now in its 26th year, that gives the U.S., Thailand and their Pacific partners skills to act decisively at a moment's notice to meet any contingency that could threaten the security and stability of the region.

The bean-bag projectile each Marine fired is one of several non-lethal rounds in the U.S. military’s arsenal the Marines and dozens of their Thai counterparts became more familiar with during the day of non-lethal weapons training.

A Marine Forces Pacific Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection team provided the training, which focused on the value of non-lethal weapons in the many diverse types of operations service members might find themselves supporting.

Non-lethal weapons can quell rioters and help diffuse volatile situations without loss of life, according to U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Rob Norton, anti-terrorism and force protection officer with the team.

“Non-lethal weapons fill a gap between shouting and shooting,” Norton said “If we’re in a situation where presence alone is not enough to diffuse it, these weapons can help us do our job without loss of life.”

The military members spent the morning in a classroom learning about non-lethal weapons and situations in which they might be used.

In the afternoon, they got hands-on training with several of the systems, including a 12-gauge shotgun that fired bean-bag projectiles, a high-tech, semi-automatic paintball gun, a Taser gun that fires electrified darts to stun and immobilize a person, and a 40mm Foam Rubber Baton – a roughly 1.5-inch-long cylindrical piece of lightweight foam fired from an M203 40mm grenade launcher.

All of the systems can cause some serious discomfort. But, if used properly, the weapons can save lives.

“They shouldn’t kill anyone in a crowd, but they’ll certainly make them think twice about facing up against a United States Marine,” Norton said.

Lance Cpl. Madison Currie, a motor transportation operator with 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division said she was glad to get the training because it broadens the individual Marine’s options when encountering hostile forces.

“If I had a choice between killing someone or (Tasering) them, I would choose the non-lethal option,” the Andover, Minn., native said.

Knowledge of non-lethal weapons is especially valuable for the III MEF Marines and sailors, who could be called on at a moment’s notice to respond to any situation in the Pacific region that requires U.S. military assistance, according to Capt. Eric Williamson, the officer-in-charge of the Marine detachment at Ban Chan Krem.

The non-lethal weapons training was part of Cobra Gold’s nine-day field training exercise.