Department of the Army Security Guards in training completed an obstacle course Friday that began with each guard getting sprayed with pepper spray.
The course consisted of four stations -- high-knees, a baton hitting station, high-blocks and the "Redman" where guards had to take out their own pepper spray bottle and spray a guard wearing red-colored protective equipment, consisting of padding and a sealed helmet.
The purpose of the course was to familiarize guards with the effects of pepper spray should they ever be sprayed in a real-life situation.
"We want to make sure the first time they get sprayed is during training," said Daniel Davis, Fort Belvoir DASG, training lieutenant. "The first time is the worst time. So, if they are on scene and accidently get sprayed, and it's their first time, their safety might be jeopardized. They (learn) through this course (the spray) does burn, but they can fight through it."
Despite not enjoying the effects of the spray, guards like Oran Catlon understood why they were put through the course.
"This could happen in a real-life situation," said Catlon. "So, I understand us going through this for those reasons."
This is Catlon's third time being sprayed since he was a Wackenhunt contracted guard prior to its contract expiring. He said the biggest part of dealing with the effects of the spray is staying mentally focused.
"A lot of people think, 'Oh, it's going to burn' and you psych yourself out when you do that," said Catlon. "Take a deep breath, keep blinking your eyes and stay focused."
A person's natural inclination when being sprayed is to close their eyes, according to Steven Jackson. So, it's best to make sure you keep your eyes open.
Jackson tried to get through the course as quickly as possible, but was encouraged to slow down in order to prevent himself from potentially hyper-ventilating.
"It's good to be exposed to it just in case you get sprayed in a real-life situation you know how to handle it," said Jackson.
The guard training course is three weeks long and includes self-defense and training in combative techniques, plus fitness and law enforcement mental conditioning. The guards graduated Tuesday.
Capt. Robert Henry, Fort Meade, Md. Chief of Guards, handles the fitness and law enforcement mental conditioning instructions.
"We go over nutrition and exercise programs because a lot of the incoming guards have never worked out before," said Henry. "So, we show them how to start a basic exercise program."
Making sure their home lives are in order is the first part of the mental conditioning, said Henry. The second part is learning to not panic in a dangerous situation.
"You train yourself so when something happens, you react to how you've been trained instead of reacting emotionally," said Henry. "When you hear a gunshot, you have to know to get behind cover and look around. You have to locate where the shot is coming from instead of spazzing out."
Henry encourages guards to do at least one mile of cardio three days a week as well as a weight routine that works each muscle group.
"You've got to change the frequency and intensity of the workouts as well," said Henry.
Self-defense techniques the guards are taught include how to escort someone in handcuffs and how to get out of a choke hold.
"If you are escorting someone you want to make sure you have pressure and counter pressure. So, if they are grabbing the arm and hand, and they bend it a certain way, as long as they've got pressure and counter pressure you can get compliance with minimal force," said Davis. "If someone is trying to put you in a choke hold, if you lift up their thumbs they're going to have to let you go because the thumb is the weakest part of the hand."
Though it is short and highly intense, Catlon said the course is beneficial and definitely equips the guards with the skills they need to do their jobs.
"It's a great program and a great job to have," said Catlon. "A lot of people don't realize what we do, and I think if they knew the work we put in they would respect us more. We're not just flipping ID cards."