Marines’ pepper spray training brutal but necessary law enforcement exercise
Marine Corps Air Station Futenma -- More than 20 Marines stood in line in an open field, heads tucked into their chests as cold rain pattered down on them.
With arms wrapped against their bodies, they stewed in anticipation, telling jokes to alleviate the mounting anxiety over what they were about to face.
Across the field, a Marine in woodland utility trousers and a black sweatshirt calmly stood, smirking, his salt-and-pepper high-and-tight haircut faded around eyes masked by square sunglasses. It was overcast.
The words “Non-Lethal Weapons Instructor” were printed in crimson across the back of his sweatshirt, and in his right hand, a red and white aluminum can full of pain and misery was about to be unleashed upon the jittery Marines.
His name was Staff Sgt. Paul Delekto, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Mobile Training Team, Provost Marshal’s Office, Marine Corps Installations Pacific- Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan.
Delekto a Stone Mountain, Georgia, native, supervised Marines with the MCIPAC security augment force as they executed a confidence course for level 1 oleoresin capsicum, or OC, spray certification March 6 on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
The Marines have various military occupational specialties and are assigned to units across Okinawa. The MTT trains them to support PMO in the event that military police need additional security on base.
The course exposed the Marines to the visceral sensation of military-grade pepper spray. The training prepared them for incidents in which they might be exposed to the irritant.
One by one, the hesitant service members lined up in front of Delekto, took a deep breath, and closed their eyes.
“OC! OC! OC!” bellowed Delekto, presenting the can of pepper spray in an offensive posture. He sprayed a single high-powered stream over a Marine’s closed eyelids.
“It felt like someone had (brought) a torch to my face,” admitted Lance Cpl. Anthony Bello, a rifleman with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, currently assigned to 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, under the unit deployment program.
The spray’s effects were immediate. The instructor raised his hand displaying fingers and commanded the Marine to open his eyes and count them.
Most of the Marines opened up, blurted the finger count to the instructor, and immediately slammed their eyes shut, wincing in pain.
To obtain level 1 certification, they then had to successfully complete a series of nonlethal defensive and offensive tactics in response to simulated assailants, employing strikes, takedowns and detainment techniques.
“All the Marines that were here today went through level 1 exposure to oleoresin capsicum, or what we know as OC,” said Delekto. “We’re taking them through the confidence course to show them not only how much (OC) would slow down a suspect, but how well a suspect could actually fight through OC.”
The experience of being sprayed in the face was described in colorful language by the Marines that day.
“Initially stepping up, your heart rate is going, and they hold the can up to your face,” said Lance Cpl. Ryan Reuscher, a Kansas City, Missouri, native and an MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft crew chief with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III MEF. “They tell you to take a breath and all that’s going through your mind is, ‘please, don’t hurt.’”
The spray had no burning effect until he opened his eyes, according to Reuscher. Then it became like “someone clawing at your face.”
Even after an hour of exposure to the pepper spray, Reuscher’s face was still hot pink, his eyes glossy and red. He tried forcing a smile.
“It’s a terrible, terrible feeling,” said Reuscher.
The SAF Marines learn fundamental law enforcement techniques to better assist military police, including training with nonlethal weapons, such as OC spray. By experiencing the effects of OC spray, they have the firsthand knowledge to use it with discretion, and only when necessary.