September 27, 2013
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- "It's like the devil just peed on my face -- that's how it feels," said Spc. Maria Rios, military police Soldier with the Puerto Rico Army National Guard's 480th Military Police Company, after completing the Oleoresin Capsicum, or "OC" spray course during her mobilization training at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
Observer controller/trainers from First Army Division East's 174th Infantry Brigade, a unit comprised of both active component and Army Reserve Soldiers, conduct training with mobilized service members at JB MDL not only on warrior tasks and drills, but also on their mission-specific duties. For the military police company, this includes being sprayed with OC, commonly referred to as "pepper spray." After completing their mobilization training, the 480th MP Company will deploy to Central America.
"MPs have to learn to deal with cross-contamination so they can still function in their duties and subdue their subject even if they've been hit with the OC spray themselves," explained Staff Sgt. April Chambliss, a mobilized Army Reservist and OC/T with 1-307th Infantry Regiment, 174th Infantry Brigade.
OC is a chemical derived from the fruit of plants like hot peppers. When a person is sprayed in the eyes and face, the capillaries of the eyes swell, causing temporary blindness. It also inflames the respiratory tissue causing coughing, choking, and breathing difficulties.
"It's a psychological thing, too," said Staff Sgt. David Engelhardt, 1-307th OC/T. "The first time you get hit with it you always think, 'Oh my God, something's wrong! This shouldn't be feeling like this!' But then you realize, that's just what it feels like. So now you know when you go into a situation, if you do get cross-contaminated, you can mentally break that barrier, know you're going to be fine, and know that you can function with it."
"Your body doesn't get any more used to it," Engelhardt said, "but your mind definitely does."
Once sprayed by a trainer, the mobilized MPs then moved through five stations, practicing various forms of take-downs, baton strikes, and defensive blocks. Each station had an aggressor, played by a plain-clothes trainer. For safety reasons, the trainers wore protective suits to help shield them from baton strikes. The training, in line with First Army's goal of providing relevant and realistic training, forced the MPs to complete the required take-downs and blocks with an active opponent while enduring the painful effects of a full spray of OC across the eyes and face.
"I'm glad I did it," said Spc. Jimlee Matias, 408th MP Company. Matias said he'd never been sprayed before. "I know now what it feels like, and if I'm ever sprayed, I'm very confident I can push through and accomplish the mission."
The 174th Infantry Brigade, part of First Army Division East, mobilizes and trains Reserve Component units for deployments in support of overseas military operations. Along with Reserve component units, the division's observer/controller trainers prepare and deploy sailors and airmen, along with selected members of interagency and intergovernmental departments, to provide trained and ready forces across a full-spectrum of operations worldwide. First Army Division East is a multi-component organization -- an active duty Division comprised of active duty and mobilized Reserve and National Guard Soldiers as well as Reserve Battalions attached to active duty brigades.