Non-lethal packs a punch

12 Aug 2005 | Sgt. Tracee L. Jackson

Somewhere between peace negotiations and firefights are activities that consume time and efforts of military personnel. However, Special Operations Training Group understands that what happens between civil unrest and resolution of disputes is no less critical to the success of the mission.

“If it’s not combat, it’s considered a military operation other than war,” said Staff Sgt. Nathan W. Thompson, chief instructor of Military Operations Other Than War and non-lethal weapons. “Sometimes what you’re trying to do is simple, and you don’t need lethal weapons to control a situation.”

Examples of operations involving military personnel are humanitarian operations, personal security details, and Non-Combatant Evacuation. It’s the concentration point for this SOTG team of 8 instructors, who get Marines ready to deal with all situations with a mature and positive result.

“The most important thing we train is the individual’s mindset. We teach them where and when to use non-lethal and lethal force,” said Thompson.

Because real-life scenarios entail gray areas of perceived threats, non-lethal weapons match the call to employ just the right amount of force to de-escalate a situation instead of going directly to the rifle.

All weapons pose an inherent threat to an individual, but that threat doesn’t need to be fatal.

“A weapon is considered non-lethal because it does not produce penetrating trauma. If it doesn’t go into an individual’s skin, it’s called non-lethal,” said Thompson. However, many weapons used may produce lethal results if employed in a different manner. The terminology better suited to this array of gadgets is ‘less than lethal,’ said Thompson

Non-lethal weapons can include police batons, pepper spray, handcuffs, stinger balls, tazers, hand-to-hand techniques and other weaponry used to control a crowd or individual.

Sgt. James P. Bowker, a MOOTW/NLW instructor, explained how Marines are taught to distinguish between a low-key control technique and an invitation to pull the trigger.

“We teach a continuum of force, which means you don’t have to use the most amount of force every time. There are different levels for different people,” said Bowker. “Some people might be compliant and passive while others are aggressive. The continuum of force deals with each of those different levels. That’s what we teach here. Your only option isn’t always to go to a gun.”

Non-lethal knowledge is paramount to the success of a deploying unit, which is why MOOTW training is required for special operations capable qualifications.

“It’s the way war fighting is going now. Obviously, it’s changing the tempo,” said Sgt. Lee J. Bruno, a MOOTW/NLW instructor, referring to the recent culturally-sensitive conflict.

Training for non-combative operations with non-lethal weapons gives Marines a larger scope of usefulness in war, said Bruno.

“We have more tactics, and we don’t use lethal force against non-lethal people just to control a situation,” he added.