By Staff Sgt. A.J. Coyne
BLACKSTONE, Va. -- Soldiers from the 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment were pelted with pinecones, water balloons and insults as they took to the streets of Fort Pickett May 7 to quell a civilian disturbance. Decked out in full riot gear and wielding batons and shields, the troops cleared the streets of rioters and peacefully defused the situation with only a few arrests.
The “riot” was actually the culmination of two days of training on military assistance for civilian disturbances (MACDIS). And although the event was staged and the “rioters” were fellow Soldiers, troops from 2-183rd learned a valuable lesson on how to handle civil disturbances in the future.
May 6 was spent both in the classroom and outside, learning how to form impenetrable lines, how to move together and how to apprehend and immobilize people. All of this training was put to the test the next day when each troop had the opportunity to go through two iterations of the scenario while spending one rotation as the opposing force.
A Fort Pickett street was closed off to traffic and the role-playing Soldiers began causing trouble for their fellow troops. Even though it wasn’t real, there was still plenty of tension and anxiety on both sides.
“It’s great to have the realism of this training,” said Sgt. Raymond Bunch, a section leader with A Troop. “You’re trying to stay focused on what’s in front of you and not look around. It definitely adds a great feeling of realism you can’t get in a classroom.”
While the Soldiers had to lock arms, keep their shields up and push the “rioters” back, the role-playing Soldiers tried to bust through the line. Bunch described it as being a defensive lineman in football. Behind him and the first line of troops were the “linebackers,” Soldiers who helped the line stay locked together and keep people from breaking through.
The unit’s mission was to secure “city hall.” They did this by slowly moving their way down the street, pushing the civilians further back until the building could be secured. Concertina wire was employed along the sides to keep the rioters from coming around the flank and to direct them where the Soldiers wanted them to go.
“The overall picture is beyond us when we’re on the line,” Bunch explained. “We just have to focus on what’s in front of us. You can’t get distracted.”
Rioters who broke through the line or who were judged to be the most troublesome and let through, were handcuffed and taken to the rear of the operations area for processing. There, Soldiers had to fill out paperwork on the arrested citizens and try to keep them from escaping.
Although the training was fun, it was physically and mentally demanding.
“It’s tiring but it’s also rewarding because you’ve learned your training, applied it and now you’re able to find out what your mistakes are and improve for the future,” Bunch said.
But just as important, the training exercise offered the opportunity to bring the Soldiers in one of the Virginia Army National Guard’s newest unit’s together as a team.
“A lot of this training is teamwork and operating as one,” said Lt. Col. Walt Mercer, the squadron commander. “These Soldiers have only been together for less than a year and they are already showing good teamwork.”