Crowd control training in Tuzla

Maj. John Dowling
First published in
SFOR Informer#149, October 10, 2002

Riotous crowds press on the front door of a local municipal building screaming for the release of a popular political dissident. A wall of U.S. Army infantrymen clad in gladiator-like attire methodically march forward poised for confrontation.

Tuzla - The two factions stand toe-to-toe, anticipating the opposition's next move. An argument ensues and harsh words are exchanged as the protesters attempt to penetrate the defence. After an hour of such assaults the integrity of the human fortress remains intact, but the crowd of angry protesters peacefully disperse without a single shot fired in anger.
U.S. soldiers, assigned to Multinational Division North, recently played out this scenario while conducting crowd control and non-lethal weapons training. The experience was designed to teach how to support local police in the event of a civil disturbance without using deadly force.
Maintaining public order
"The training is designed to enhance our soldier’s capabilities and provide commanders a different tool besides lethal weapons when dealing with stability and support operations," said Eric Nizer, the non-lethal action officer for the training.
Nizer is a civilian with U.S. Army Europe's Seventh Army Training Command. "The bottom line is to maintain public order without an escalation in force."
Nizer was impressed with the results of the training exercise that attempted to replicate a possible real-life scenario 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.
"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," said Nizer.
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.
Good training
"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 1Lt. Sean O'Brien, 1st platoon leader.
According to O'Brien it's not easy with an angry crowd of role-playing GIs taunting them and dousing them with water. 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."
"It's very important. You've 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, 109th Infantry. "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, to include sponge grenades, 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.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: US
Training and Exercises

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Photos: Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Luster

Multinational Division North soldiers hold the line as angry role-playing civilians attempt to breach their human wall.

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Staff Sgt. James Choate, a non-lethal weapons instructor from the 95th Military Police Battalion, U.S. Army Europe, participates in an after action review with Multinational Division North soldiers after their recent training at Eagle Base.

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A 28th Infantry Division soldier pushes back an angry protester.