JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Off Plant Road, tucked between Lewis Main and Lewis North, lies a grassy area, surrounded by towering pine trees, where on a sunny Washington day you can hear the birds chirping and the roar of an occasional Chinook or Black Hawk helicopter as it flies by.
This serene scene was cut short by a pop, a zap-zap-zap, and a bloodcurdling scream.
No, it isn't the scene from a thrilling murder-mystery novel but, rather, the training area belonging to Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Directorate of Emergency Services. On May 8, this quiet, grassy place turned into the training area for 18 military police officers with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
Their screams, pleas and, in some cases, complete silence, were in response to the 50,000 volts of electricity passing through their bodies as DES instructors administered a 5-second shock on the first of a two-day Taser Certification Training course.
Taking "the five-second ride" is required for all military police officers who will carry a Taser gun on their person while performing patrol duties, according to Michael Hayes, DES chief of Law Enforcement Training.
"Before being able to carry a taser, all officers - military and Department of the Army civilians - must be certified, and to be certified they have to attend a class by a certified instructor," Hayes said. "This will be another tool in the toolbox for them."
Day one started with classroom training on the X-26 Taser, which is the standard military-issued Electronic Control Device for officers. Following classroom training, the soldiers were brought outside and given a five-second shock. Each soldier was required to wear eye protection as they stepped in front of a row of mats. The soldier receiving the shock was flanked on each side and held by their arms; this is done to prevent any injury in case the soldier begins flailing once the ECD cartridge is employed, explained Lt. Rayvon Smith, DES police officer and instructor.
The soldiers were placed in a variety of positions to simulate various types of responses where they may have to use non-lethal force measures, such as the ECD. While most soldiers remained standing, one initiated a subject stopped in his car; one acted as though he was charging the officer; and another acted as a subject who refused to show the officer his hands. Smith said all are realistic scenarios that any officer can arrive on scene to.
The officers need to be prepared for anything, but they also need to understand how it feels and how a subject could potentially react, explained Hayes.
"The intent of the training is so [the officers] understand the weapons system and understand the capabilities and how it affects their bodies, so they fully understand, when they are employing the taser, how it affects ... the combatant person," said 2nd Lt. Heather Wagner, military police platoon leader with HHC, 3rd Bde., 2nd Inf. Div.
"It served its training purpose but it was awful. Never in my life again," Wagner, a Hannibal, Mo., native, joked after being shocked.
Each cartridge shoots two prongs into a subject, and 50,000 volts are administered in five second increments (holding and releasing the trigger will send one, five-second shock into the subject), which triggers neurological muscular incapacitation.
"Basically, it's like a Charlie horse, times 10, in every muscle of your body," Hayes said.
Once the shock is over, subjects will fully regain neurological and muscular functioning.
"A tool like this is extremely useful," explained Staff Sgt. Brian DeSantiago, a Gardena, Calif., native and military police squad leader with HHC, 3rd Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. "It prevents injuries, [officers] don't have to switch to lethal. We have another option between [using the baton] or taking them down or using a pistol."
The second day allowed the soldiers to have more training with the weapon; they spent most of the morning in pairs - "good guy" and "bad guy"- and were given time to practice drawing their taser and giving verbal orders for a subject to get on the ground and put their hands behind their back.
Drawing a weapon quickly could be a matter of life or death, said Olympia, Wash., native Lt. Marcus Todd, another officer and instructor with DES.
In some exercises, "bad guys" were able to take down the officers because they were not able to draw their weapons quick enough or because the situation warranted a more lethal measure, Todd explained.
"You are not always going to use a taser, but you need to know what situations warrant it," DeSantiago said.
The second half of day two was spent rotating the officers through three scenarios. The officers were put in situations that required them to quickly decide if they needed to use non-lethal or lethal means to gain control of unruly, aggressive and, in some cases, drunk subjects.
After successfully completing all areas of training, officers were given certificate of training. Taser Certification Training was the last of a two-week training iteration with DES to prepare the Arrowhead officers for patrol duties around JBLM.