FORT A.P. HILL, Va. -- Three new security guards learned the power of pepper spray May 1 as part of their training here.

The Fort A.P. Hill Directorate of Emergency Services recently hired Joseph Figert, Jerry Mensah and Shasta Williams to be its first new security guards. Their training includes being sprayed and performing a number of tasks while coping with the effects.

DES training officer Lt. Ronald Henson sprayed each guard in the face and they felt the effects immediately--severe burning in their eyes and on their skin. Each struggled to see clearly, wincing from the spray.

Henson led them through the gauntlet, where they used a baton against a padded dummy, pushed away a person trying to get past them, subdued an aggressive suspect and fired a pellet pistol at a target.

Henson said it is important the security guards know how it feels to be hit with pepper spray, and, more important, they need to know they can still perform if they're sprayed.

"They need to know what it feels like; it burns like a hot iron, but they can still function if they open their eyes," Henson said. "We've got to train them not to quit. The goal is to go home at the end of the day."

After they completed the gauntlet the guards used wet paper towels and water to cool the burning in their eyes and on their skin. Figert said it was the worst pain he had ever felt.
"It's horrible," he said.

Williams, a Navy Reserve Master at Arms, said he'd been sprayed before as part of his Navy training.
"This is worse than the first time because I had to open my eyes to shoot," Williams said. "But, I knew what to expect so it made it a bit easier."

Pepper spray is also known as O.C. --oleoresin capsicum--spray, a mixture of cayenne pepper extracts and oil in a pressurized container. Henson said that also can be dispersed in a fogger and as foam.

The fog is used for crowds, it disperses over a wide area, Henson said. Foam is used in smaller spaces, like a jail cell. The spray is used on individuals close to you who you need to subdue.

The security guard training is about five weeks long, Henson said. In addition to the O.C. spray training the security guards learn hands-on defensive tactics, handcuffing, baton training and active shooter techniques. They receive several hours of classroom training in duties and responsibilities, use of force and legal issues. They also qualify with pistol, rifle and shotgun.

They're trained the same as the police at the gates and inspection points, Henson said.