Rather than full-metal-jacketed ammunition and other deadly weaponry, soldiers in nonlethal weapons training learn about pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear-gas grenades, stun guns and batons.
At Muscatatuck Urban Training Center here, a subinstallation of Camp Atterbury, soldiers of the 40th Infantry Division, which includes members of the California National Guard’s engineer and military police assets, are preparing to deploy next month to Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo as part of NATO’s Kosovo Force. Their mission: to maintain a secure environment for the people of Kosovo through law and order operations.
Since current conditions in Kosovo call for peacekeeping missions and focus less on combat, nonlethal weapons training is critical, Army Sgt. 1st Class Lorenzo Dominguez, a platoon sergeant with the division’s “KFOR 11” team, said. While the possibility of direct combat still exists, he noted, most incidents in Kosovo involve riots or detained individuals who become uncooperative.
“First and foremost, we are ambassadors of goodwill,” Dominguez said. “As such, we have to exert the minimum amount of force required. We want to show the people of Kosovo and Serbia that we are consummate professionals, since it’s our job to ensure that peace prevails for their nations to grow.”
Despite the fact that the weapons systems used in the training are significantly much less lethal than their combat counterparts, they are nonetheless extremely effective, Army Staff Sgt. Ismael Arroya, a nonlethal weapons instructor with the 205th Infantry Brigade at Camp Atterbury, said.
During one phase of the training, soldiers learn how to control subjects at close range. Normally, Army hand-to-hand close-range combat training, or combatives, focuses on techniques that can injure or even kill. In nonlethal training, techniques are used in situations where the subject does not pose an imminent threat.
“In combatives, you want to finish the fight,” Arroya said. “Here, you want to gain compliance.”
Although the soldiers deploying to Kosovo still receive lethal combat training required for any overseas deployment, the nonlethal weapons instruction impresses upon each individual the importance of maintaining peace, Dominguez said.
The Army cultivates the inner strength soldiers need in combat through a program called “Battlemind.” Dominguez said soldiers on peacekeeping missions still need the mental alertness Battlemind entails, but they must keep their mission in mind.
“The Kosovo population is very supportive of our presence,” he explained. “If we went in there with a Battlemind focus, we’d risk turning that support against us. You never lose your edge, but we don’t need to go there and show it off.”
Army Cpl. Steve Faecke, a KFOR 11 soldier, agreed. “If you go in aggressively, you’re making the wrong impression,” he said. “It’s like walking on ice; you want to step slowly so as not to break through it.”
So far, the training has been met with enthusiasm among the ranks. Army Spc. Christian Rossall, also of KFOR 11, is preparing for his second deployment to Kosovo and said he’s been impressed by not only the level of training, but also by its relevance to the mission at hand.
“This is my first time doing this training, and the emphasis on nonlethal weapons is even more significant than before,” Rossall said. “The training is important, since this is what’s more likely to happen.”