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Troops learn nonlethal crowd-control techniques

By Charlie Coon Stars and Stripes

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BÖBLINGEN, Germany – Sometimes it pays to feel someone else’s pain.

“It teaches you what the stuff does, so you don’t put people through something they don’t deserve,” said Pfc. Steven Shepherd after getting a face full of oleoresin capsicum, or pepper spray.

“Though I didn’t enjoy it, it did help me.”

Shepherd, of the Hohenfels-based 7th Army Training Command, was among about 65 troops on Thursday training with nonlethal weapons near Panzer Kaserne.

Next week, the group of soldiers and Marines will demonstrate nonlethal weapons and tactics to troops visiting from European and African nations.

The goal is to teach troops how to control people and crowds without killing them, according to Capt. Roberto Rodriguez, a nonlethal-weapons instructor with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe.

He gave as an example clearing a landing zone for a helicopter bringing relief supplies.

“People are in a panic because they’re hungry, but it’s not their fault,” Rodriguez said.

Other situations in which the tactics could help include stopping a confused person who fails to heed warnings while approaching a checkpoint, and marking the agitators of an unruly crowd with paintballs for arrest later.

These weapons and tactics fall somewhere between a bullhorn and a bullet, according to Laura Falkenbach, the nonlethal-weapons program manager for U.S. European Command.

“More and more units are realizing it’s not just for military police anymore,” she said.

On Thursday, Marines and soldiers were sprayed or wiped in the face with pepper spray, and then, while blinded, made to run a gantlet of nonlethal exercises — such as taking down opponents, jamming them with batons, and fending off 2-on-1 attacks — just in case they had to stop a riot for real while accidentally sprayed.

“I kept [my eyes] open, barely enough to see what I was doing,” said Pfc. William Speakman of the 123rd Main Support Battalion.

Army Sgt. Jose Orive, of the 501st Military Police Company in Wiesbaden, said he could see uses for the nonlethal tactics.

“You never know when you might need to know some of this riot-control stuff,” Orive said.

Others just appreciated the cross-training.

“With my [job], I wouldn’t be on the front line using it,” said Sgt. Joshua Carlisle of the 501st Military Intelligence Battalion. “But being an MI soldier, doing this kind of training is great.”

About 45 members of 2nd Platoon, Marine Corps Security Forces Europe came from their base in Rota, Spain, for the class. Twenty Germany-based soldiers from 1st Armored Division and Joint Multinational Readiness Command also trained.

The training culminates Wednesday with an exercise for troops visiting from Croatia, Czech Republic, Ghana and other nations.