Protest Exercise at Fort A.P.Hill,Va
July 29, 2010
"Make love, not war!" chanted a select group of Soldiers, as they clutched cardboard picket signs and made their way through the thick, Virginia humidity toward a platoon of armed, military police officers in an attempt to "protest" anything and everything they could think of. "Give peace a chance," they continued.
The cliche chants came from the mouths of National Guard infantry Soldiers with Compant C, 1st Battalion, 114th Infantry Regiment out of Berlington, New Jersey during an exercise held at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia July 23. The exercise was intended to train military police officers with 3rd Platoon, 13th Military Police Company, 92nd Military Police Battalion out of Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, the appropriate ways to handle a group of protesters who gather outside of military and other installations.
"We're supposed to be a peaceful protest so the MPs can get a hands on experience on how they're going to react to any kind of protest," said Sgt. Drew Benler, infantry platoon team leader, Co. C, 1-114th Inf. Regt. "It's before the main show kicks off in two days. We're supporting this mission readiness exercise."
Both units travelled to Fort A.P. Hill in support of the National Boy Scouts of America Jamboree and centennial celebration.
"This way," said Benler, "the MPs will have practice. They can critique what they did right and what they did wrong and they will be prepared for a similar situation, if it takes place, during the main show."
As the exercise progressed, however, the multi-talented infantry Soldiers demonstrated their improvisational skills by drifting from the scripted protest and on to antics of their own. After MP officers had dealt with their barriers getting climbed on and knocked over, flowers and grass getting thrown in their faces, getting sprayed with water and other general harassment, a thunderous roar of, "You can't spell 'wimp' without 'MP,'" boomed from the protesting crowd.
Situations like this, said Sgt. Sigmund Furtado, team leader, 13th MP Co, 92nd MP Bn., can really test an officer's patience.
"In the MP Corps, they teach us ITPC skills -- interpersonal communication -- so we can talk to an individual and find out what is going on and to keep our composure," Furtado said. "It isn't always easy, but we train our Soldiers to keep their composure and use thier levels of force."
The levels of force are steps taken by MP officers in potentially hostile or dangerous situations and are meant to mitigate or disolve the problems before the officer turns to using his weapon, explained Private 1st Class Antonio Saiz, MP officer, 13th MP Co., 92nd MP Bn. He also explained both his ability to properly use the levels of force as well as the abilities of his fellow officers to do so was put to the test during the training exercise, especially after the infantry troops broke through the barriers and fleed a group of pursuing MP officers.
"We had a couple of ups and downs with the guys out here, but, overall, we handled it very well," he said. "I'm pretty confident we are able to handle our mission here. We have good NCOs who have been deployed and who have dealt with similar situations, so they are quick to react and dictate."
"When I was in the California National Guard, we had a protest in San Francisco that got out of hand and we were called in to help," Furtado said. "We trained a lot in the California National Guard for protests inside the cities."
In addition to the overall learning experience of the exercise, the MP officers were left prepared to handle potential tricky situations during the BSA Jamboree.
Saiz said this holds a significant importance.
"It's a big jamboree," Saiz said. "There's going to be a lot of America's youth and we have to set an example. I think it's very important that we're out here protecting them and making sure they have a good time and everything goes safely."
The Soldiers of 1-114th Inf. Regt. ensured the MP officers of 13th MP Co. are ready for anything.
"I appreciate the infantry Soldiers being here showing my Soldiers how hairy it can get," Furtado said. "I hold high, high regard for my Soldiers. We train them, we keep them motivated and my job is to give my knowledge to the Soldiers. The edges are rough, but you can always polish the edges. It's a learning experience for them and they can put it in their toolbox, so the next time it happens, they know what to do."