JOINT BASE MCGUIRE DIX LAKEHURST, New Jersey - A disaster has struck and a squad of judge advocates and paralegal specialists must bring victims food, water and supplies.

Angry rioters, raucous music and blinding smoke added to the swelling confusion. At the head of the squad, Spc. Christal Rosario, 19, of Schenteday NY, with the 7th Legal Operations Detachment enters a mock schoolhouse to retrieve a wounded civilian. As a paralegal specialist, Rosario doesn't often get to train such tactical movements, she said.

"This is stuff we don't learn often, wedge formations and how to handle civilians. But if a riot were to occur, it's important," said Rosario, who's been in Army Reserve for two years. "This helps with readiness. Now, I have a basis to build on."

The urban operations scenario, which took place in a mock town tucked among scruffy New Jersey pines, was just one of the many events Soldiers from the U.S. Army Legal Command. The weeklong event concluded May 4. Soldiers from 11 Legal Operations Detachments took part.

Acting as a civilian vigilante, Sgt. 1st Class Rob Kubowski, 30, of Milwaukee, WI, an NCO from the 214th LOD, approached the squad, calling out, "Help us, we need food and water." He then stole a magazine from an officer's M-16 rile. Kubowski's fellow rioters swarmed.

Another role-player, Maj. Daniel Santander, 52, is a 14-year Army veteran who in civilian life serves as an U.S. immigration judge in San Antonio, Texas. Santander, who's deployed with the 1st Calvary Division to both Iraq and Afghanistan, said the scenario is designed to be difficult, to test Soldiers reaction in stressful situations.

"We want to teach as many Soldiers what it's like, so if they get the call, they know what to do and make the right choices," Santander said.

The rioters added a sense of realism, said Sgt. Brian Yoo, 35, of Los Angeles.

"I didn't know how aggressive they would be," Yoo said. "It was tough to identify the threats. We had to determine what their intent was, to shoot you or not."

Some Soldiers found themselves caught in squabbles with the role-playing rioters and were separated from their squad, Yoo said.

Both officers and enlisted Soldiers are well-versed in military law. One of the main principles of the laws of armed conflict is "distinction," explained Lt. Col. Arthur Rabin, a judge advocate who is the command's spokesman.

Distinction is used to determine when force can be used against hostile civilians as valid military targets, he said. The scenario was not unlike the Mogadishu Mile, Rabin said, referring to when Army Rangers were attacked by a civilian mob in Somalia in 1993 -- popularized in the film "Black Hawk Down."

"It's challenging. We have to distinguish who are combatants and who are not. An armed civilian cannot be attacked just because they are carrying weapons in plain view," Rabin said. "There must be hostile intent, combined with a hostile act. Unless the person made such an act, you can't shoot him."

Drill sergeants and instructors from the Army Reserve's 98th Training Division supported the exercise. They ran the small arms ranges, the obstacle course, the Humvee convoy course and more.

The exercise was this third and final annual event for Col. Paul Raaf, the command's G-7 or training officer, who will soon take command of the 134th LOD at Fort Bragg, NC. The command had three goals; small arms qualifications, unit team building and junior leader development, Raaf said.

"The first goal was to get maximum qualification. We did very well with that, with 100 percent on the M-16 and 97 percent on the M-9," Raaf said.

Unlike in conventional Army Reserve units, USARLC Soldiers don't always perform battle assembly with their assigned unit. Sometimes they embed with other Reserve commands, support active duty commands, and deploy during contingency operations.

"Having the Soldiers with their units here at one time, and working as a team, was important," he said.

Each day a different leader, a junior officer or NCO, took charge of their respective LODs, taking care of everything from planning and accountability to execution of the day's training mission, Raaf said.

"The reason we do all this is to increase readiness," Raaf said. "Did we increase our level of individual readiness? Definitely."