A Marine stands shoulder to shoulder with his team, talking to himself. “Stay calm, don’t flinch. Stand your ground. Hold the line. There are 50 of us and hundreds of them. Hold the line.”
Suddenly there is a shout in the distance, followed by the crash of bodies on riot shields as “Get back!” echoes down the line.
Within a matter of moments, a peaceful protest can turn into a rioting, hostile force, similar to this scenario.
“You’re never really prepared for it until you have been through one,” said Cpl. Barry Walton, an interservice, nonlethal weapon instructor here, who participated in several riot control operations in Iraq.
To help prepare service members for those situations, instructors from the Provost Marshal’s Office here trained the Security Augmentation Force, which is made up of Marines and Sailors whose primary jobs range from intelligence analysts to mechanics, in riot control tactics Sept. 10-13.
The SAF members from here, and Camp H.M. Smith, were required to suit up in riot control gear and assume their proper formations. These included the wedge, the ‘V’ and other formations. Other service members acted as rioters and rushed the formations trying to break through the line.
“It is one thing to know the formations, but you need hands-on experience to know how it feels to have an aggressor right in your face,” said Walton. “There are just some things you cannot learn in the classroom.”
Other drills required the SAF team to perform a snatch and grab, a procedure where a key trouble maker is removed from the crowd.
The SAF members spent two days practicing the formations. Each drill became increasingly difficult to push the Marines’ endurance and self control.
“It was a bit nerve racking. You don’t always know what the crowd is going to do,” said Cpl. Jeffrey Caraway, graphics designer here and SAF member. “But I was pretty confident in the training and we did our job well.”
The Marines went on to use this training in the mass-casualty exercise – Lethal Breeze, which tested MCBH’s first responders, including the SAF, PMO and Emergency Medical Services.
During the exercise, the SAF was required to control and disperse a riot, allowing the other personnel to safely carry out their mission.
Though riot control was the focus of the training, riots are not the only instances the SAF respond to.
“The SAF is used for a number of security-related situations, such as natural disasters, chemical spills and riots, to help fill in the gaps,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Wilding, training chief, PMO here.
Even events like Bayfest and the upcoming air show, Blues on the Bay, create a need for more security personnel.
“If we have well-trained Marines who can maintain law and order, it frees up other personnel to do their jobs,” Wilding added.
All team members were required to go through the SAF’s initial training in February. This included instruction on anti-terrorism, improvised explosive device detection, use of deadly force, nonlethal tactics, ID card authenticity, vehicle check point procedures, and vehicle and personnel searches. They also qualified with the M-9 pistol.
During the riot control training, the SAF members learned the differences between a crowd, a mob and a riot.
“We teach them about crowd dynamics, or what makes a riot, a riot,” Walton said. “They have to be able to recognize the different types of crowds and the threat the represent.”
Throughout the training the instructors stressed that the purpose of riot control is to keep a situation from escalating.
“The main thing we teach our SAF members is how to stop a situation before it starts,” Walton said.
For three days the Marines continued to perfect their techniques, ensuring they were confident and comfortable in their roles.
“The instructors kept the training realistic,” Caraway said. “They know what they’re talking about and trained us hard.”