BRUNSSUM, Netherlands – The sun was out March 10, and volunteers smiled and laughed as they worked with military police Soldiers to storm the access control point of U.S. Army Garrison Benelux – Brunssum.
The event was a mock protest designed to test the response and capabilities of the garrison’s protection personnel, from the gate guards to the military police.
Volunteers from the community met outside the gate behind a long berm that separates the garrison gate from view of the local highway. They received poster boards with anti-military and anti-American slogans, took in hand tomatoes and eggs to lob. Military police Soldiers from other garrison locations donned padded red protective gear so they could act a bit rougher during the exercise.
Sgt. Jonathan A. Vallejo, a military police Soldier and operations sergeant at USAG Benelux – Brunssum, who coordinated the exercise, briefed the volunteers before the action.
“If we tell you to calm down, it means you’re being a little too extra,” said Vallejo. “You’re allowed to be rough. But keep in mind, if you’re rough with them, they might be a little bit rougher with you.”
Vallejo handed out a bullhorn for one volunteer to act as an instigator and spur the crowd of dozens to action.
The crowd started where most had parked their vehicles, close to the gate and well behind the berm.
The role-playing demonstrators marched forward, holding before them or above their heads the colorful inflammatory posters. As they walked up the automobile lanes, the gate guards resisted them physically. Nevertheless the guards were outnumbered by the chanting, smiling demonstrators, who pushed past and continued onto post.
The garrison’s MPs, however, had reacted quickly to the oncoming group. The MPs had parked their vehicles quickly in the middle of the entrance road directly behind the fencing and concrete barriers, pinching the route inward where two of the MP Soldiers could more easily defend against the unlawful entry.
The instigator climbed on top of one of the barriers and urged the crowd forward, and the role-playing, pad-wearing MPs met the defending MPs bodily.
And then Vallejo called a halt to the proceedings. The role-players and the protection personnel had met their objective.
“The objective is to see the reaction of the MPs and the gate guards and how well they can cooperate and work together and to see how fast they can react during a violent protest,” said Vallejo afterward.
Although not taking an active role in the exercise, the local host nation police and Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (“Koninklijke Marechaussee” or KMAR) observed the event.
“We will continue coordination with (the police) and KMAR to try to get them included in our exercises,” said John R. Hopper, the garrison emergency manager.
If ever demonstrators were to rush the gates in earnest, both the police and KMAR would have the capability to arrest or otherwise detain the perpetrators.
“Some good things that the MPs did is they positioned their vehicles correctly,” said Vallejo. “So they had to find another place where they could block off and make it a little bit harder to get through the gate. They definitely did some good things, like they locked their vehicles. People tried to open the doors to get through the vehicles.”
“We learned that it takes a lot of practice to make sure that our gates and our access points are secured at all times depending on what incident could happen at them,” said Hopper. “The guards responded well once they realized what was happening.”
Hopper mentioned that in some regard the exercise demonstration was more difficult than any potential real-world demonstration. Given that the organizers of the exercise did not want to cause alarm in the real world, they started the demonstration well behind the berm out of any public view. A real-world demonstration would start farther away as they moved along the road to the gate, giving the guards and every other protection personnel a longer time to prepare before demonstrators would reach the gate.
Hopper expressed some disappointment that the tomatoes and eggs weren’t used to their full potential. Even given the friendly nature of the exercise, the protection personnel and organizers deemed it too personally costly to clean albumen and tomato spatter out of uniforms.
“We definitely learned a lot,” said Vallejo. “We got a lot out of this training because we got to see what we need to improve on. And it’s also a fun little event, get people hyped up. It’s something a bit different. It was a good day.”