CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan --
Within seconds of being sprayed, my eyelids slammed shut, hornets stung at my eyes and molten steel was poured over my face. This was my experience with Oleoresin Capsicum, commonly known as Pepper Spray.
At first I thought going through the OC training would be an event focused on proving my manhood, after being called out by my sergeant.
But, after my Dec. 9 experience with the Marines and Sailors of Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, I learned the validity of the most excruciating training yet in my Marine Corps career.
The training is required for military police, but as with several of the other Marines in attendance, I willingly volunteered to be sprayed in the face with an agent used for riot control and repelling bears.
Staff Sgt. Joseph Ross, a military police chief for CLB-31, 31st MEU, and the instructor for the OC training event, said the purpose of the OC training is to give the Marines an idea of what its effects are on the human body.
We received a short class on the history, use and properties of OC and practiced take-downs and maneuvers for a few hours for the first part of the course.
The instructor then demonstrated five different stations,where I had to control aggressors with a baton, execute take down maneuvers, and manipulate handcuffs and OC spray.
After the demonstration, I was lucky enough to draw the shortest straw and go first. Ross ordered me to close my eyes and take a breath before spraying two streams of OC over my eyes. I opened my eyes and, to my surprise, didn’t feel a thing. Five seconds in to grabbing my gear, it hit me. I instinctively let out a few choice words, but only made out an “Oh!” before I lost my breath. I sprinted to the first station thinking the sooner I finish this course, the sooner the pain would stop.
At the first station, I took down an aggressor with one of the techniques I learned in class and began to yell commands like “face away from my voice” and “bring your palm to the small of your back.” Although I knew what to say, the drool and pain caused those commands to sound more like loud babble. After simulating handcuffing, I was ordered to the next station.
At station two an assailant met me in what looked like riot gear. I had to strike him with my baton and take him to the ground. He provided the occasional hit to my head, reminding me to keep up my guard while I struck. It was difficult to land blows in the blink of an eye, given that the spray would only allow them open for that long. I took him down eventually and simulated the handcuffing. I was halfway done.
Station three challenged me with two aggressors, forcing me to back the assailants up with strikes from my baton, take one down and employ the use of my own lemon-water filled can of simulated spray. With each strike of the baton I screamed, “Get back! Get back!” A threat from behind triggered me to pull my own can of spray and force compliance. After subduing multiple opponents, and trying to issue verbal commands, I had a moment to take notice of the physical exertion up to this point. I was out of breath.
I received a partner for station four, which required teamwork to complete the multiple takedown techniques and handcuffing. By this point, my tear ducts were completely dry as my eyelids felt like sandpaper against my eyeballs.
The partnered techniques required strategic communication to effectively take down the opposition. Off of my count we executed the takedown, “One…Two…Clear!” After handcuffing the opponent and clearing my partner’s back, we moved to the last station.
Station five was essentially the same as four, but involved all of the takedown techniques. It was a battle in my mind, thinking about how close I was to finishing while trying to remember the several steps involved in each maneuver. After the final takedown, handcuff and clearing, I was done.
After what seemed like an eternity I finished the course and rinsed off my face with water, which to my dismay, immediately intensified the burn, however helped rid of the agent in the long run. It took 30 minutes for my eyes to completely open again.
While waiting around for everyone to decontaminate, I could feel the sense of brotherhood in knowing we just completed this excruciating event.
My personal accomplishment from this training was gaining a new reference point. Whenever something seems painful or stressful in life; I can now think back to OC training and remind myself that it can always be worse.
The 31st MEU’s benefit was adding a new batch of certified military police augments authorized to carry OC spray. I found many Marines asking why anyone would volunteer to get sprayed and stated they never would. For me, there is no better way to understand other jobs in the Marine Corps than by experiencing them firsthand.
My hat goes off to the military police of the 31st MEU, who endure this training annually to maintain proficiency as an integral part of the United States’ only continuously forward deployed MEU and force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.