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Penn State Fayette trains oldest active U.S. National Guard Unit

2/12/2008 —
In the future, on a debris-strewn street in Iraq, soldiers from the West Virginia Army National Guard may have to decide how best to deal with an unruly, angry and potentially violent mob heading toward their position. Should they abandon their post? Stand their ground? Or fire directly into the crowd?

Nearly 150 members of the 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery, the country’s oldest continually-serving federally recognized unit in the United States Army, found out exactly what they should do in the above scenario during non-lethal weapons training conducted at Camp Dawson, W.Va., by Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus’ Center for Community and Public Safety (CCPS).

The training was requested by Maj. Jimmy Thornton after delivery of the unit’s first non-lethal weapons (NLW) capability sets, which are part of the equipment used to perform their National Guard Reaction Force (NGRF) Mission for West Virginia. The unit will apply the training in response to any emergency that may occur within West Virginia and in the nation’s capital region.

“A few of our soldiers have a law enforcement background,” Thornton said. “But the majority of the NGRF don’t. They had very little knowledge of how to use non-lethal weapons properly. We wanted to get everybody the initial training for non-lethal weapons so they understand how to use and deploy them in a civil-disturbance environment.”

Non-lethal weapons have a growing role in the defense arsenal, especially in situations like riot and crowd control, and in many urban scenarios, such as those faced by troops in Iraq.

“Non-lethal weapons provide the commander with options other than deadly force,” said Ted Mellors, director of the CCPS. “Training for non-combative operations with non-lethal weapons gives the soldiers a larger scope of usefulness in war.” Lt. Col. Roy Bourne, the Battalion Commander of the 201st, opened the training by emphasizing the importance of understanding the proper legal use of NLW during civil-disturbance situations.

During five intense days of training, the soldiers completed 80 hours of training related to non-lethal weapons. The course covered kinetic non-lethal weapons, riot control agents, riot control formations, vehicle and vessel stoppers, Rules of Engagement, Rules for Use of Force, as well as emerging technologies. Guardsmen completing the course demonstrated their proficiency using OC spray, riot batons, the TASER and defensive tactics as well. The training culminated with a mock cordon and search mission in a small village during which the guardsmen needed to utilize all the skills they learned during the non-lethal weapons training.

The trainers, Dave Derrico, Kirk Hessler, and Staff Sgt. Sonny Stracener, noted the soldiers excelled at the skills during the long and intense training. “These skills will serve them well during peacekeeping and humanitarian missions regardless of whether they are serving in Iraq or in any city in the U.S.,” Hessler said. “They learned a lot, and had a good time doing it as was evidenced by their desire for more time to do the training.”

Thornton added, “If NGRF were deployed and called upon to do a mission, we can deploy with our non-lethal weapons capability set with confidence due to the training provided by Penn State University.”  

1st Lt. Christopher Shamblin noted, “Having instructors as qualified as those at Penn State was very beneficial. They are an excellent source to get feedback from on how to do things properly with the non-lethal weapons.”

The instruction was also commended by Sgt. 1st Class Nickolas Lambruno. “This was very high-speed training,” Lambruno said. “Prior to getting the (capability) sets, we basically had no knowledge of them. The Penn State guys went over the sets and gave us detailed information on how to employ them.”

Lambruno also lauded the hands-on portion of the training. “All the techniques we talked about beforehand, we actually did,” he said. “A lot of people also got to play a leadership role. Both of these make for very good training.”

The only thing lacking during the training, according to Shamblin, was the length of time allotted for hands-on training. He noted the training covered everything required to know about non-lethal weapons, but pointed out the need to obtain more funding is critical to provide for extra practice.

Hessler and Derrico are graduates of the Department of Defense Interservice Non-Lethal Individual Weapons Instructor Course and work for the Penn State Fayette Campus’ CCPS in Uniontown, Pa. For more information on non-lethal weapons training, contact the campus at 724-430-4213.

National Guard
696: West Virginia Army National Guardsmen from 201st perform a flex-cuffing procedure during scenario training held recently at Camp Dawson, W.Va.
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703: West Virginia Army National Guardsmen from 201st communicate during a cordon and search training scenario while keeping their “360 security bubble” at Camp Dawson, W.Va.
National Guard
107: West Virginia Army National Guardsmen from 201st standby for the command to begin room entry training recently at Camp Dawson, W.Va.
National Guard
693: West Virginia Army National Guardsmen from 201st prepare for entry into a building during a cordon and search training scenario held recently at Camp Dawson, W.Va.

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