News: Reserve Marine instructs Caribbean veterans in Barbados
Story by Cpl. Nana Dannsaappiah
CHRIST CHURCH, Barbados – Twenty seven-year-old Sgt. Andrew Mercer spoke loudly, gesturing with his hands as he fluctuated between two groups of students. The two platoons that flanked him, law enforcement and defense veterans from various Caribbean islands, directed their attention to the lead instructor, Mercer, and his five assistant instructors.
The seven-year military policeman from Allentown, Pa., was here June 18 to teach a civil disturbance control class for Exercise Tradewinds 2012. He and his fellow Reserve Marines from the Pittsburgh-based Military Police Company B, Headquarters and Service Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group, were activated for two weeks to support the exercise.
Mercer’s reputation as a seasoned combat veteran with tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan preceded him. His students expected that his knowledge and experience would result in exceptional instruction.
“With his background and the training that he has had, its very important that he makes a contribution,” said Cpl. Eldeen Henry, one of Mercer’s students and also an instructor with the Royal St. Lucia Police Force. “It’s one thing to know a subject but it’s another thing to actually be in the situation, because what happens in the classroom usually does not translate directly into the field. Having actually had that experience in the field, he would know what would work and what wouldn’t work.”
Tradewinds’ planners anticipated that the Caribbean nations would want advanced civil disturbance control training as the islands have seasonal festivals that sometimes produce unruly crowds. It was up to Mercer and his team to ensure that the tactics taught would be applicable to the students.
Mercer shared his knowledge and experience with his students. The class participants, who themselves were instructors back in their countries, had something new they could teach within their ranks.
“A lot of people don’t realize that situations we find ourselves in, other countries and nations face as well,” said Mercer, who’s taught these classes to other foreign troops before. “It’s good to share the training that we have because we put a lot of resources into it.”
At home, the students did not rehearse the crowd control tactics regularly, only occasionally, breaking out the riot shields and batons to practice before festivals. While here at Tradewinds, they practiced until they were near perfect.
Mercer would not settle for anything less. He and his team worked all afternoon, guiding students through several formations and scenarios.
“He is very professional and takes his job seriously,” said Staff. Sgt. Eric Snyder, Mercer’s supervisor.
“He gets in there with the group to actually lead and guide the training where he wants it to go,” added Sgt. Brian Kirton, one of Mercer’s students and also a training instructor with Special Operations Company, Barbados Defence Force.
His supervisor was there watching him; his students were counting on him. Mercer had to make certain he left nothing in the tank. His team assisted to ensure that each student was receiving adequate attention and comprehending the techniques being taught.
Outside in the grass field, students took turns leading formations and giving commands. They donned their riot shields and batons as they maneuvered towards mock aggressors.
The more the students sweat in this controlled environment, the better trained and less they might bleed when rocks and glass bottles come flying in real-world scenarios.
Sgt. Andrew Notbohm, one of Mercer’s assistants, moved from student to student, correcting hand positions, baton swings and shield positions.
“These guys actually use this stuff; they go through riots and man checkpoints so its critical that they get it right,” said Notbohm, a Moon Township, Pa., native with six years experience as a military policeman.
If the students got it right, Mercer was thrilled.
The students said they approached the class with an open mind. Mercer filled their brains with seven years of experience.
These students, however, were only his first class, and there would be more students to teach.
The students, who endured hours upon hours of classroom and practice time, had a bit more to learn before Mercer was finished with them. He hoped they gained increased confidence in how they execute the crowd control tactics and how they teach it.
Regardless, after trading peculiar stories and sharing laughs with his students, Mercer knows that he’s built friendships in a new part of the world. The results of his methods are evident when students, from seven different countries, lead each other in crowd control formations using textbook maneuvers with ease.
The training was supporting Tradewinds’ mission to prepare the allied nations to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster response to support regional security and emergency response objectives.
Tradewinds is a multinational, interagency exercise designed to develop and sustain relationships that improve the capacity of U.S., Canadian and 15 Caribbean partner nations security forces to counter transnational crime and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The exercise features U.S. personnel from the Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Air Force, National Guard, Joint-interagency Task Force-South, Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation working and training along with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, the Eastern Caribbean Regional Security System and military and law enforcement personnel from: Antigua-Barbuda, Barbados, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.