News: Holding the line
Story by Staff Sgt. Antwaun Parrish
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, WASH. – The soldiers in a closed formation bang their batons in cadence against their shields as an angry mob approaches.
“When I initially picked up my shield, the thought of the movie '300' was the first thing that came to mind,” said Spc. Kyle Wilhelmi.
Teams of soldiers assigned to 3rd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, conducted civil disturbance training here, March 13. The soldiers, though not quite Spartans, are effectively training to hold their line and successfully control crowds if called upon for a civil disturbance.
Soldiers with shields, batons and rifles pushed through and maintained a dominant stance against a mob of about 40 civilians. The riot escalated as the crowd began throwing snowballs, slurred profanity and made offensive gestures at the soldiers. The more forceful members of the mob charged the soldiers but were easily pushed back, as many often fell to the icy surface.
The overall goal of Riot Control Group is to control the crowd using less than lethal force.
Staff Sgt. Lawerence Jameson, a section sergeant assigned to the squadron’s B Troop, served as the leader of the RCG. He found its challenging to stay focused during the conflict.
“It was chaotic,” said Jameson. “I keep yelling at my group to stay tight and hold their ground. As the crowd grew larger I was anxious to know when the breaking point was.”
The crowd initially approached the soldiers with about 20 people, but once the RCG pushed them back toward the training area’s town, more people came from out of hiding. The soldiers had to use whatever stamina they had left to control the mob.
Spc. Kyle Wilhelmi who was a part of Jameson’s RCG, felt the training surpassed his expectations.
“I never thought there were going to be so many people,” said Wilhelmi, a native of Lennon, Mich. “This has been more of a realistic experience.”
The soldiers learn to maneuver with the shields that protect the entire RCG and restrict the crowd from harming them.
When the soldiers are moving in their formations, which are decided by Jameson, they hold the shields up to protect their body.
“When used correctly, it protects not only me, but my buddies as well,” said Wilhelmi.
Jameson explained that the extra protection is effective when controlling the crowd, however, they can also cause their share of problems.
“It was visually overwhelming,” said Jameson. ”The shields are difficult to see through, so often times, all I saw were figures in front of me.”
Some soldiers complained about the heavy weight, but Wilhelmi believes that additional training will develop muscle memory.
“We will start carrying them during physical training to get our bodies used to them,” said Wilhelmi.
U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Justin Spicher led the squadron’s C Troop through riot control training and was there to observe his group and figure out what his team needed to train on.
“This is our first time conducting the training against a live force,” said Spicher. “We want to work on the units established guidance and make any adjustments as necessary.”
Wilhelmi, a cavalry scout for the last three years, shared that he welcomes the unexpected skills he’s learning during civil disturbance training.
“When I joined the Army, I never thought that I would do something like this,” said Wilhelmi. “I enjoy it!”
Jameson looks forward to more training and feels confident that his RCG will be ready if needed.
“We’re not quite experts,” said Jameson. “Ultimately, we will be ready to defend!”