CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. - His view of the field ahead is cloudy, diffused by the plastic shield. His head pounds. He is unable to distinguish between the shouting from the crowd before him and the men that surround him. He feels the push from behind as his men urge him forward to the crowd of protesters that stand in his path. Through his shield, he sees a large man barreling toward him, moving at full speed.
Soldiers learned a peaceful protest can get out of hand quickly if it is handled incorrectly. Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 118th Infantry Regiment, rehearsed riot and crowd control at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Aug. 2, in preparation for their deployment to Kosovo this summer with the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.
“The training is to employ non-lethal force in support of the civil law enforcement,” said Sgt. Dustin E. Rouse, a team leader for the 118th. “It is practice for some of the younger guys, and some guys like myself, who have never done this before. This way, we know what to expect if things get escalated in case of a riot, without harming anyone or employing any lethal force.”
Rouse, an 11-year veteran of the Army, deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. He uses his experience from that deployment to help develop some of the younger soldiers. He emphasizes the importance of teamwork for the mission of the 218th and the specific training of the day.
“We are going to support the Kosovo military force, their law enforcement and to support NATO as a whole,” said Rouse. “We are a back up plan, just to make certain they have everything they need.”
“Part of working as a team is being able to employ certain non-lethal, riot control techniques, in support of the Kosovo law enforcement,” said Rouse. “We want to get them to a place where they can establish their bearing, and have control of their country.”
Members of the 118th trained all week under the supervision and instruction of the evaluation team. The Soldiers worked to achieve the teamwork that is necessary for the best results, from learning how to shoot non-lethal weapons to learning how to move effectively as a team in riot control formations.
The soldiers walked through two scenarios Thursday, said Spc. Andrew L. Scherbarth, a grenadier from Boiling Springs, S.C.
“The first [scenario] was moving a crowd from one side of the street to the next, without using lethal force,” said Scherbarth. “The second was where we had to pick out the instigator in the crowd. We had to determine who he was and bring him behind our line and figure out how to disperse the crowd from there.”
Rouse, a native of Florence, S.C., said, “it takes a lot of teamwork, you have to know the guy beside you, what he is capable of, how he is going to react so that you can react off of him.”
Part of working as a riot control team means each Soldier must be in synch with the other soldiers on the team. This takes practice, and a sense of reliability and responsibility for one another.
“You are just there,” said Rouse. “You get pushed a lot. You are getting pushed forward. You are getting pushed backwards. You have to trust the guy behind you. Spc. Scherbarth is behind me. I need him. He can obviously see a lot better than I can so I am counting on him to push me forward, or move me back, let me know if I am moving too fast, or moving too slow.”
“Everything is dictated by teamwork,” said Rouse. “You want to be able to move a crowd, not them move you. You want to be able to push them in a way so that you can de- escalate the situation so that no one is harmed or hurt, especially civilians.”
Rouse emphasized the importance of understanding the needs of the soldiers on his team.
“If you don’t know your guys, you don’t know what they are going through,” said Rouse. “Especially during a deployment. Everyone is away from home for a long period of time, and everybody takes it in a different way.”
Financial or family problems at home can cause undue stress for a soldier, and if he is worried about what is happening at home, he will not be as effective in doing his job, said Rouse.
“You have to make sure they are mentally, more or less, in the fight,” said Rouse. “That’s when people are getting hurt, when they are not fully mentally there.”
Soldiers train using the crawl, walk, run method. First they review the fundamentals. Weapon control, movement as a team, command and control. Then they go through the movements as a team.
“It is easy to do when there is not a crowd,” said Rouse. “When you go to having people throwing things and pushing forward at you, then the adrenaline starts pumping, people get loud and it’s hard to hear the guy beside you. You have to be able to keep your cool. Know what to do and what not to do. The goal is to de-escalate the situation. Not to make it worse.”
“You can do a dry run with no one there, and you get the basic principles and it looks good,” said Rouse. “But you have to test it, you have to push the boundaries in order to test the limits.”
The instructors call “Index!” and the riot control team all lower their shields. Rouse wipes the sweat off his forehead with his black-gloved hand. He looks to his left and his right, making sure all his team members are there. The opposition force has been subdued and the riot instigator taken in for questioning. The Soldiers go forward and continue to work together as they prepare to expect the unexpected in Kosovo.