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Training prepares SFOR to respond without deadly force

by Maj. John Dowling

EAGLE BASE, Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Army News Service, Sept. 30, 2002) -- Clad in gladiator-like attire carrying batons and shields, U.S. soldiers of Multinational Division (North) conducted crowd control training in mid-September to prepare for potential crises in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The experience taught peacekeepers how to support local police in the event of a civil disturbance without using deadly force, according U.S. Army Europe officials.

"The training is designed to enhance our soldiers' capabilities and provide commanders a different tool besides lethal weapons when dealing with stability and support operations," said Eric Nizer, a U.S. Army Europe non-lethal action training officer.

Nizer is a Department of the Army civilian with USAREUR's Seventh Army Training Command. A team of five military police officers from the 95th Military Police Battalion assisted in teaching the finer points of crowd control.

"The bottom line is maintaining public order without an escalation in force," said Nizer.

Participants included Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina for Operation Joint Forge. Soldiers were from the 1st Platoon, Company C, 109th Infantry Battalion (Task Force Blue Steel) based at Forward Operating Base Connor and members of 1st Platoon., A Troop, 104th Cavalry Squadron (Task Force Saber) assigned to the FOB Morgan area of operations.

Nizer said he was impressed with the results of the training exercise, which attempted to replicate a possible real-life scenario in this country where a popular community leader is detained for breaking the law.

The training runs contrary to the primary mission of the infantry where the "spirit of the bayonet" is the order of the day, he said.

"They're motivated and understand the mission they were sent here for. Infantry soldiers are trained to kill in combat; now, we're trying to put them in the mindset not to kill or hurt. They seem to be receptive to that," Nizer said.

The four-day training included orientation to crowd control equipment such as batons and shields, crowd dynamics, hand-to-hand combat, and non-lethal weapon munitions and live fire exercises. Platoon leaders were given a warning order two days prior to the capstone event to be prepared to respond to a call for a quick reaction force in the community.

The scenario forced platoon and squad leaders to exercise their leadership abilities in planning and conducting crowd control operations.

"It was real good training. We knew they were going to press us. We wanted to be able to keep our cool. When the situation escalated, we were the ones that were in control," said 1st Lt. Sean O'Brien, 1st platoon leader, Co. C.

It's not easy with an angry crowd of role-playing GIs taunting them and dousing them with water, according to O'Brien. But the training effectively prepared soldiers to rapidly respond to realistic conflicts that could occur on their patrols.

"They were grabbing our shields, throwing water on us and taking our sticks when they had the chance," he said. "It really tests the platoon. When you go through your rehearsals, you never know what the other guy is going to do. You can't catch that feeling of what's going to happen next until it actually happens."

The training was the first opportunity for the two platoons to train together on the deployment where split-second decision-making could mean the life or death of a fellow soldier or even a civilian.

Students said the experience was invaluable.

"It's very important. You always got to be looking out for your buddy, especially on the front line with the shield. Everybody has to be communicating for unity and not let anyone get separated," said Sgt. James Prebich, a grenadier in Co. C, 1st Bn., 109th Inf. "You have to control your emotions and not let them get the best of you. It was excellent training."

A demonstration of non-lethal weapons and munitions was held on a small range constructed near the training event. Ammunition including sponge grenades, and rubber shotgun pellets and bullets were used to show members of the local media SFOR's capability to contribute to the safe and secure environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina without jeopardizing the lives of local civilians.

(Editor's note: Maj. John Dowling is assigned to the Task Force Eagle Public Affairs.)

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