Tanks And Machine Guns And Grenades… Oh My!


 

Military surplus and the police.

Tanks!  Er.. thanks, Pentagon!

The recent police shooting events and subsequent demonstrations across the country have let loose a cornucopia of social issues and among them is the idea that maybe the police departments of the country are a tad too “militarized” in the way they not only handle riot control but equip themselves to do so.  As the fingers get pointed around in all directions one point of contention has been the federal government’s program, administered through the Pentagon, of distributing military surplus equipment to local law enforcement, is not as discriminating as it could be in verifying a need for certain equipment by a specific police department making a request, as well as providing adequate training for the use of some of the more specialized military hardware.  Given the images of militarized police units in Ferguson dispersing the crowds looking like something from a neo-fascist Orwellian movie, there’s seems to be a little more at play here than just cops with tanks.

I think it’s all about mindset; trying to focus on the immediate problem in a way that presents an image of authority for public safety rather than oppression of civil rights.  I am not a social scientist nor law enforcement psych researcher, but let’s explore a bit the structure of any sort of public demonstration that has the potential for turning into a crowd control problem for the police from some level of common sense.

There are some basic facts prevalent with all public demonstrations.  Whether the demonstration is organized and designed to be peaceful by well-intensioned Americans exercising their First Amendment rights, any demonstration is designed to be a release of emotions and personal passions toward something.  Given that,

  • …any demonstration is about public image.  It’s done to play to the press and the public… because it is in fact a public demonstration of citizens presenting their cause… publically.  They are making a “noise” for their cause.  The subject of the demonstration can be benign or very volatile.  Sometimes organizations will present a peaceful surface to a demonstration knowing full well those opposing will become so impassioned as to cause violence, thus playing into the “being victimized” response the so-called peaceful demonstrators wanted all along.  Some demonstrations are not organized, some are impromptu, many look to taunt or goad authorities into impulsive responses just for the cameras.
  • …there will always be someone who doesn’t agree with the point being presented by that demonstration and even those opposing people exercising their rights on the sidelines could change the tone of an otherwise peaceful demonstration.
  • …there is a good chance that others who disagree with the demonstration or the demonstration’s theme, or simply have anarchist intentions toward civil chaos for political ends, could show up to turn the demonstration into a form of destructive civil disobedience.
  • …police will not be able to tell the difference in the crowd of people who are peaceful from people who are there to disrupt the demonstration and cause a threat to public safety and personal property, therefore, anyone can be an injured victim of the rioting itself or from the police trying to regain control.
  • …the police are pawns in this public theater (and “theater” is exactly what it is) yet they become major players, and ultimately the villains as well because in this country we abhor even the suggestion of an image of militarized authority with batons, tear gas, and armored personnel carriers trying to break up crowds of civilians. “That happens in Third World countries, not here”, we think to ourselves.   It doesn’t matter if citizens in the background of those images are looting the local Walmart, burning vehicles, or throwing Molotov cocktails at the police.

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policeMolotovHistorical Sidebar – Few people know about the origin of the Molotov cocktail.  You may recall that in the beginning of WW2 the Germans and the Soviet Union were buddies on the same side (this changed later when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941).  This was forged in 1939 by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact… named after then Soviet foreign minister Molotov and German (Nazi) foreign minister Ribbentrop.  Along with the non-aggression agreement the pact contained a secret arrangement whereby the Soviets would invade Finland for their own ambitions.  When the invasion started Molotov put off any bad press by saying that the alleged cluster bombs the Finns were saying the Russians were dropping on them were actually food and humanitarian supplies to help the Finns.  In response to the invading Russian military the Finns fought back, often using gasoline in glass bottles with a rag stuffed in as a kind of fuse.  They nicknamed these “Molotov cocktails: a drink to go with the food”.  Molotov despised the reference but had to live with it through modern world history up until the day he died in 1986 at the age of 96. (Ref:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molotov_cocktail  )

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Now the police have to weigh their response to the ever changing and very dynamic phases of any demonstration.  Is it simply a response requiring a measure of crowd control to maneuver the demonstrators on both sides toward certain streets or areas of least effect to the public?  Should the response be more a forceful physical presence to deter potential violent elements in the crowd?  Should the response be to disperse the crowd to avoid impending violence toward public and private property?  Or should the response be a full dispersing of all crowds to quell violent protests, full blown rioting and the destruction of property and threat to personal safety, using smoke, chemicals, and/or safe projectiles?  It’s very easy to understand that any police department confronted with such demonstrations can pass through those phases within a matter of minutes or hours.  The police themselves could be reacting to a situation from just minutes before rather than what might be happening at the moment.  Lines get blurred, crowd dynamics change, on-scene authority changes from moment to moment.  Riots take on a life of their own.  It isn’t a giant leap to understand the desire of police departments to want armored vehicles and heavier firepower to be able to try and retain control of what can be uncontrollable civil unrest (or attacks from zombies after the apocalypse; uh huh.).

But perhaps the one event that rather galvanized police department thinking toward heightened armor and firepower for its officers was that event back in North Hollywood in 1997.  Two bank robbers, wearing body armor and carrying automatic weapons held off under-equipped patrol officers for 44 minutes.  Here is what Wiki says…

L.A. shootout bank robbers leaving the bank.

L.A. shootout bank robbers leaving the bank.

“Local patrol officers at the time were typically armed with their standard issue 9 mm or .38 Special pistols, with some having a 12-gauge shotgun available in their cars. Phillips and Mătăsăreanu carried illegally modified fully automatic Norinco Type 56 S-1s, a Bushmaster XM15 Dissipator, and a HK-91 rifle with high capacity drum magazines and ammunition capable of penetrating vehicles and police Kevlar vests. The bank robbers wore body armor which successfully deflected bullets and shotgun pellets fired by the responding patrolmen. SWAT eventually arrived bearing sufficient firepower, and they commandeered an armored truck to evacuate the wounded. Several officers also appropriated AR-15 rifles from a nearby firearms dealer. The incident sparked debate on the need for patrol officers to upgrade their capabilities in similar situations in the future.”

 (read it here… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Hollywood_shootout )

 After this nightmare event for the L.A. police things started to change regarding bringing the street cop up to matching the armament and body armor protection available to perpetrators.

Couple this event with the “war on drugs” mindset passed down to local police from the Federal level, with possible gang and cartel confrontations, it all has likely fed the desire for surplus military equipment and the shift toward municipality-run paramilitary rapid response forces.. the evolution of what was traditional SWAT.  While one might accept a certain amount of this in large urban areas a variety of military gear is finding its way into more rural county and small town America police departments; places not likely to find their communities in the middle of civil riots, open cartel drug wars, or gang turf battles.

policeriotcontrol1Some of this equipment is really beyond the scope of what most (if not all) police departments might need.  The Pentagon has given out tanks (with cannons), land mine-resistant armored vehicles, grenade launchers, land mine detectors, and machine guns.  Now, Pentagon-released personal tactical gear seems more palatable; night vision equipment, pistol belts, camo gear, holsters, Kevlar helmets, etc., those things seem to make a level of sense.   Bottom line, cops are showing up at demonstrations dressed ready for bear and for many the image itself is intimidating but not in the way crowds used to think… meaning, better break up or this long line of police will break YOU up.  Now the crowds perceive the long line of military-equipped police look more like an oppressing army of Darth Vaders out to circumvent the First Amendment… which then encourages from the demonstrators other passions and emotions into an already volatile mix.

This is a new age; one where image means everything, news travels at the speed of sending texts, and a once-peaceful crowd can turn into a seething mob for the least little perceived provocation or infraction of authoritarian control.  Most importantly, everyone has to play for the camera… er, cameraS, and everyone has a camera.. the media and the demonstrators, and the world is the audience to pass judgement.  Piss off the viewing audience enough and they complain to their political leaders and make demands, and then before you know it, the President has to weigh in, bowing to political pressure and opinion polls.  Then the lawmakers step in because everyone thinks “there outta be a law!”.  A publicity nightmare for everyone, from the cause being presented by the demonstrators  right up to the President of the United States.  In the end this big knee-jerk only hurts the public.

As you might expect I have some modest thoughts (I had to chuckle on that one myself).

Great use of color makes this group still look authoritative but not the least like storm troopers.

Great use of color makes this group still look authoritative but not the least like storm troopers.

* Police riot control image –  Many urban municipalities dress their cops up in that nice black SWAT-looking gear.  Well, the problem with that is when you are confronting demonstrators in a regimented line it looks like any number of Hollywood movies of some variant of Big Brother fascist storm trooper oppression.  Covering the face (under the helmet) so as not to be facially recognized is a contemporary image of a Mid East Al Quada or ISIS terrorist.  I mean, c’mon… the demonstrators are going to want to fight back… or in the least be more resistant.  Here’s another odd thing.. there’s a pic showing the Ferguson police at night trying to disperse a crowd with the usual tear gas.  What are they wearing?  Desert camouflage uniforms.  Desert camo in Ferguson, MO?!  At least the black BDU’s made some sense color-wise, for nighttime urban cover and concealment operations.  Did the Ferguson PD get a Pentagon uniform freebie leftover from Desert Storm or something?  Here’s my suggestion.  For riot control purposes have the police wear some color that does NOT encourage a military assault image or storm troopers.  Cover and concealment means little in riot control.  Take an example from the United Nations soldiers.  Those guys wear blue helmets.. and their armored vehicles are painted all white.  It keeps them non-threatening to all sides in a given conflict and easily recognizable on the battlefield.

These guys don't look like storm troopers in the least.

These guys don’t look like storm troopers in the least.

*  Do you really need tanks or those MRAP armored vehicles?  MRAP means, Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected.  The question is… are the threats to police in urban areas or small towns (yes, MRAP vehicles have ended up in small communities) consistent with land mines and fear of armor-piercing ambush?  Just WHO or what is the threat to police that requires these behemoths?  They gotta be expensive to operate and repair.  But besides that, these things, just sitting there, look like they were intended for use in the apocalypse.  The only thing these things are going to do on a city street is look like an invading army.  Seems to me all any urban police department might need is maybe one of those smaller armored personnel carriers with the battering ram for knocking down doors and busting holes in buildings in support of regular SWAT operations.  Other than that, why not just get a few regular armored trucks of the kind used by Brinks.  Outfit them with the little perks for riot control.  Those don’t look militarily intimidating in a police line.. and they are bullet-proof all around.  Yes, they aren’t going to take a direct hit from a terrorist RPG (rocket propelled grenade)… but there’s not many RPG’s in America where that threat has any merit.

policecopMRAPS

All you need to arrest rioters.

All you need to arrest rioters.

*  Less threats and more arrests –  Ok, I don’t pretend to know more than the police nor do I have a law degree to understand all the things police departments can and can not do in riot control, but here’s a thought from a layman.  Forget the tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash-bang grenades.  Have a truck with public address loudspeakers inform the demonstrators that they have now passed the line of being peaceful and they are violating public safety and destroying property.  They have five minutes to disperse or be arrested.  After the five minutes have passed you begin marching the police lines forward, followed by buses or similar vehicles, and when they come across a demonstrator who has defied the police order to disperse you grab him (or her), pass them to the back of the line where they are promptly placed in a vehicle and subsequently to a confinement facility for arrest processing.  Forget all the “dispersing the crowd” tactical weaponry garbage.  Make the announcement to disperse only once then start arresting.  Obviously an urban police department would have made some advance precautionary preparedness plans on a location for holding large numbers of people for arrest processing in the event of civil disobedience situations.

Now, to the credit of  certain police departments, some have tried to return some of this unnecessary and ridiculous military equipment back to the Pentagon, and that has spawned a bureaucratic mess of sort.  The military has little or no procedure in place for accepting returns.  Here is a quote from an article published on the Mother Jones website.

In the past eight years, the Pentagon program has loaned local law enforcement some 200,000 ammunition magazines, 94,000 machine guns, and thousands of armored vehicles, rifles, aircraft, land mine detectors, silencers, and grenade launchers—all at the request of the local agencies themselves. But images of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, of police in military gear cracking down on peaceful protesters, have turned many communities against a program critics say has eroded the line between police officers and soldiers. Recently, in response to the local outcry over aggressive policing tactics, San Jose, California’s police department announced plans to return its mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle (MRAP), and the Los Angeles school system police department has agreed to return its three grenade launchers.  (Ref: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/09/police-departments-struggle-return-pentagon-military-surplus-gear ).

Yes, there has been some progress in the last 40 years, since the Days of Rage of the 60’s in handling civil disobedience.  Remember the old photos and film footage of the black civil rights marches in the South when the police used to rush into the crowd and start beating away everywhere and using water cannon?  Or how about the 1968 Democratic National Convention when the Chicago Police, only in helmets… no fancy riot gear… just ran into the crowds of “hippie” protesters and started clubbing away.  I think as a nation we’ve gotten over that riot control nonsense.  But we have a way to go.  It seems we need to change riot control strategy from crowd dispersing to making arrests for civil disobedience and not listening to police lawful orders.

policeChicago1968x

Police Toys Now.. and the Future – 

This could be very valuable to some police departments in rural areas.

This military HumVee could be very valuable to some police departments in rural areas.

So what can urban police departments use if not all the military hardware they can get is free from the government?  Well, see, that’s the checks & balances provided by sticking to budgets and having to justify purchases with public tax dollars as compared to the freebies from Uncle Sam just because he’s giving stuff away.  Yeah, no question it’s cool stuff, to be sure.  But is it really necessary to do the job or does it amount to overkill?  Sure, it saves public expense for having to purchase these vehicles and weapons but the public has no say so if they want their police department to have them. And when you are using all this cool military stuff for the public good does the image it portrays to the public… for the public good?  Don’t get me wrong here.  Some military vehicles may find a purpose in law enforcement.   A military Humvee may have a real practical use for law enforcement in rural counties that have large expanses of open land to cover, but does such a vehicle make sense in Chicago or New York City?  The things are not generally armored-up when given to law enforcement as they might have been in Afghanistan.  Let’s look at the tracked armored personnel carrier (see pic below).  Does Bellingham, Mass. (only 16,000 people??) really need one of these things?  The only application I can think of for this vehicle is maybe for traversing snow, but… the tracks are not wide enough in some snow areas, like Alaska.  Again, maybe the large counties and states with varied terrains.  For urban use?  You tell me.

This thing is part of Bellingham, Mass. law enforcement.  Why?

This thing is part of Bellingham, Mass. law enforcement. Why?

Police should present their proposals to the city council because it's all about 'WE, THE PEOPLE'.

Police should present their proposals to the city council because it’s all about ‘WE, THE PEOPLE’.

If any police department elects to not use military equipment provided by the Pentagon there are, in fact, companies out there who do sell law enforcement versions of many vehicles that have armor sufficient for civilian law enforcement operations.  These things (note some of the pics below) have a military feel to them but are nothing like their large and imposing military cousins bristling with gun turrets, gun ports, tank treads, and sometimes a cannon poking out.  But these items are expensive.  Procedure calls for someone in the cop shop preparing a proposal for the money to purchase the item.  Then that proposal goes to the local city council for debate (or in the case of county, the county board; state police have to go to the state legislature).  If it makes sense and the expense is justified and a vote passes, the police get what they want.  This is the way it should be.  In fact, if there isn’t already such a law, I would think that any donation to any police department must have approval for acceptance from the local governing body and not just the local police commissioner.  If the Pentagon gives a tracked armored personnel carrier to the local police then approval should go before the city council not only to accept the vehicle based on a need justification but also to make sure there are funds allocated for training on how to drive that thing… and for ongoing maintenance and putting fuel in that gas hog.  If there is no money for training and the extras then the vehicle cannot be accepted.  That’s how it should work.  It makes the police responsive to the community.

policeLAPD_SWAT_Rescue_vehicle

This design is not military but works very well for law enforcement.

policeSWATvehicle3Here’s another of those APC’s.  Looks more practical on the Normandy beachead than in an urban area.  But.. the color is great for toning down the intimidating image.

policeSWATvehicleAnother law enforcement vehicle design.  But why paint it army green?  Why are the officers wearing forest camo in an urban setting… with black law enforcement tactical gear?  Are they supposed to be blending in with something?

policeSWATvehicle2

Another example of a law enforcement design vehicle, although the paint job could be modified to be less intimidating.

Here’s a few cop toys for the future…

Um... one of these to allow a cop to get around easier makes sense.  But an army of these?

Um… one of these to allow a cop to get around easier makes sense. But an army of these for riot control?

In World War I they stuck a machine gun port out the center window.

In World War I they stuck a machine gun port out the center window.

Why am I reminded of the chariot race scene in "Ben-Hur"?

Why am I reminded of the chariot race scene in “Ben-Hur”?

SPECIAL FEATURE

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Another war story –  Me and military riot control.

KC-135 refueling an F-15 in flight.

KC-135 refueling an F-15 in flight.

I’ve been seeming to have a war story for every topic recently.  Well, here’s another one.  This likely remains the most ridiculous military exercise I ever participated in during my four years with Uncle Sam.  It was dumb from the get-go, run by total incompetence of command, and in one situation was a threat to Air Force assets and the personal safety of flight crews.  As you may already know, I was an Air Force Security Police Specialist and this was in 1974 while I was stationed at Grissom AFB in Indiana (now reduced to a joint air reserve station status).  At the time the airbase was assigned the Strategic Air Command role of supporting the alert launch status of KC-135 air refueling tanker aircraft.  While they were not bombers or carrying nukes they were critical as they had secret orders to rendezvous at certain locations on the globe to refuel our nuclear-laden bombers in flight toward their assigned targets.  Interestingly, my story here has nothing to do with that.

We reported to work for our duty shifts at a one-story building called, CSC (Central Security Control).  It housed our immediate command structure up to the squadron commander (a captain), administration, and the radio dispatch.  Inside there was a large room for training and meeting purposes.  One day they asked for a number of “volunteers” to go through some base-level riot control exercise.  I think we were promised an extra day off or something as an inducement.  Whatever it was I signed up for it.

Wait, you say!  Why would an active duty military installation need to have riot control exercises when the military is prevented by law under the Posse Commitatus Act  (no active military can be used against the civilian population unless directed by the President of the U.S. and only if that meets the elements of the Insurrection Act)?  Well, riot control training had been part of SP training since the middle 1960’s as preparedness to the growing civilian racial struggle spreading to military installations.  In fact, a number of military installations did have increasing racial tensions but obviously because of the small military communities living on base and the tighter controls for proper conduct among military personnel there were no “riots”.  Also… the civilian riots in major cities at the time, whether anti-war or racial, did give heightened attention toward military riot control preparedness in the event the President had to invoke his powers under the Insurrection Act (the only time that ever occurred was the 1992 Los Angeles Riots… some 18 years after my service).  So by and large we all considered riot control exercises/training as just busy work with little or no substance or consequence… and looking back on my four years of service, I was involved in some level of riot control training only three times, totaling just a few hours, so it obviously wasn’t the military’s priority either.

What did riot control training encompass?  Well, here’s the interesting aspect to it all.  Imagine going back to the Napoleonic way the military fought battles in the Revolution or even the Civil War.  Armies fought face-to-face, in long lines.  Troops moved to the orders given by officers waving their swords in the air.  Based on those commands the lines of troops moved left, right, forward, marching fast, slow, stopping to fire on command, or a full run.  The enemy in turn reacted accordingly by standing to fight or running away in chaos and confusion.  The same follows in riot control.  Those lines of cops have to be directed to move in cadence and together by an officer who interprets the threat of the crowd of demonstrators ahead of them.  If the cops are armed with weapons or batons they have to have them ready for orders from the commanding officer… and then everyone pulls them out together.   By comparison, you might remember those old black & white photos of the civil rights demonstrators in the Southern cities of the 60’s… police just wildly running into them and clubbing the demonstrators at random to disperse them, exercising no discipline (much less compassion) whatsoever.  By the early 70’s crowd dispersal had evolved… a little.

Contemporary soldiers doing the 'stomp & drag' routine.

Contemporary soldiers doing the ‘stomp & drag’ routine.

The early mindset in riot control in those days was that the crowd had to disperse in order for the police to regain safe control of the public.  It was considered that by the time police were brought into crowd control that damage and destruction to public property was being accomplished by levels of anarchists and persons intent on mass hysteria, chaos, and disrupting authority.  It was thought that a show of force by police would be part of the response effect, and certainly would be intimidating without having to use weapons or chemicals or batons and causing injury.  That’s why police used to dress up to look threatening to the crowds.. carried rifles (not loaded).. and holding them in aggressive stances to look mean and threatening.  Even movements were scripted to look intimidating.  One such command was the “stomp & drag”.  We held our M-16’s out in front of us, muzzle pointed slightly up over the crowd, then on command we’d stomp hard forward with our right foot and let our left foot slide back up to meet the right foot.. and repeating that in cadence… the long line advancing slowly and relentlessly.  On a city street that was quite an intimidating sight and sound… a wall of military-looking guys marching toward you, rifles pointing at you in a bayonet-thrusting stance, with a sound like goose-stepping storm troopers.  A bit disconcerting to a first-time demonstrator.

On with my war story.  Normal training typically included an officer shouting commands and us troopers learning to move together in a line and in step to the various line movements.  There were usually no more than may 15 or 20 of us in a line; it’s not like we had an entire platoon when we did these things.  Sometimes it would be a role play thing.. buddy cops would dress as civilians and be screaming “demonstrators” ahead of our line to somehow provide some level of realism to the exercise.

In this exercise my volunteer group (there were two groups) was to report to the meeting room dressed in civilian clothes.  We were handed each a large plastic lawn-type garbage bag and a ream of copy machine paper (still called “typing paper” in those ancient days).  Then we were told to crumple into a ball one sheet of paper and put the crumpled balls of paper into the plastic bags.  These were to be our “rocks”.  Rocks?

When we finished filling our bags of “rocks” the Sergeant began briefing us.

“Ok, listen up you guys.”, he said.. sitting on the desk in the front of the room.

“This exercise is a two phase exercise.  This is a base exercise… meaning it will involve two different locations on base and evaluate how quickly base personnel responds to you rioters in calling us SP’s.  You guys are the rioters.  Phase one… you will all report to the large parking lot behind the headquarters building.  Leave your “rocks” here for now.. that’s phase two.”

“What do we do there, Sarge?”, someone quipped up, looking confused.

“You will move as a group so as to look threatening to people.  You will not touch or damage vehicles or property.  If you see personnel coming in and out of the building you are expected to create a disruption by yelling at them  BUT.. you are NOT to use swear words.  You do not tell the officers or the base commander if you see him, or anyone else ‘Fuck you asshole.’ Or ‘Go eat shit!’  You may use language and derogatory phrases that are NOT racial.  ‘Your mother wears combat boots!’ would be more like what you might say.”

Grins came across our faces.  Then came the obvious barrage of example terms we’d like to say versus what we can say and not get arrested.

“Can I say ‘Bite me!’, Sarge?”

“What about ‘Suck off!’?” (that one was approved)

Anyway, we were really getting into this.  The problem is there were only about 10 of us.  Hardly an intimidating group; a pretty small riot.  Not being able to swear and curse (and hurl feces) like real rioters would be a disadvantage here also.

Now, the idea here is that one of our sergeants would be off to the side evaluating responses and our performance to make sure we didn’t get too carried away.  He also had a stop watch and walkie talkie to time how long before someone inside the building would call the SP’s.  Once the call would come in then the second group of volunteers, dressed in duty uniform, would arrive dressed to face a bunch of “rioters” they had to disperse.  “Riot dress” meant a military helmet with face guard and an unloaded M-16 rifle (no Kevlar-anything in those days).

Phase One –

Well, we drove as a group in an SP van to base HQ and got out in the back parking lot.  We were all a bit skittish at first.  I mean, we were being asked to do something we’d normally go to Leavenworth for, or at least a dishonorable discharge.  We felt a bit stupid.  Then we saw our first “victim”.  A lieutenant coming down from the second floor stairs.

“Hey, scumbag!”, one of my buddies yelled at him.

I yelled out rather timidly, “Um.. your mother wears army boots… uh.. sir.”

The other guys laughed.  That got us into gear.

Someone else parked their car and was heading into the building.. we moved as a group to her… she was a two stripe WAF.  Thinking, “Careful.. no sex stuff.”  I yelled at her, “Your car sucks!”  The other guys just looked at me in confusion.  Well.. hey.. this not swearing thing is a real handicap here.  The girl just smiled and went into the building.

“We gotta step this up here”, I thought.

It was the end of the day so more personnel were leaving the building.  “Hey scumbucket!”  “You jerk!!” “You putz!” “You look like an idiot!”  The phrases all started becoming more routine to us now.  I saw a guy I knew from aircraft maintenance; he saw me and walked over.  “Hey, Burk.. what are you guys doing here?”, looking confused but smiling.  I told him he can’t talk to us because we were on a secret mission as rioters.  “Hey, can you go inside and call this in so we can get outta here?”, I asked him.  He just laughed and drove off.

After a while we began to wonder if anyone had called CSC.  Finally after 45 minutes, the sergeant/referee came over and called this phase of the exercise finished; no one called the cops.  Strangely we felt we didn’t do our job effectively… in spite of the fact we had low numbers, couldn’t swear, and even in civilian clothes we looked like a college glee club.  Fortunately we were not being judged for our ability to be G-rated rioters.

Phase Two –

Our little group of rioters drove back to CSC and we picked up our bags of “rocks” and proceeded over to a location on the parking tarmac, near a large hangar.  The Sarge said, “Ok… you guys start throwing your “rocks” at people and vehicles that go by.”  I quipped up, “You mean we throw these paper wads at them as if they were rocks?  Right out here on the flight line?”  I was noting the slight breeze, and there were less base personnel here to “taunt”.

The sarge said yes.  “Use your verbiage you used at HQ.”, he said.  “This time we will not only measure the time before someone calls you guys in to CSC but also the response time of the other group in riot gear, their arrival on the scene here, and how they follow commands to disperse you.”

Again, we looked confused at each other, but opened our rock bags and started throwing around the paper wads at the occasional flight line vehicle passing by.

One buddy looked at me and said under his breath, “These lifers are fucked up, man.”  “I know.”

(“Lifers” was a term to describe people making a career in the military, versus one-term enlistees like most of us.  Lifers were in charge, had the authority, and dreamt up war games just to keep us busy.  Military life was important to them, while transitional to us enlistees.  We wanted out and they wanted in… yada, yada)

Vehicles drove by.. drivers waving… pedestrian personnel confused or smiling as they walked by.

It didn’t take long before the paper wads started blowing around in the breeze.  Now if you been around jet engines you know that they tend to suck air in.. and foreign objects on a runway can be sucked up and ruin an engine and/or endanger the occupants.  We were intentionally throwing around light paper wads and they were blowing around the flight line.  We just shook our heads.  Still, no one called CSC.

Suddenly along comes an FOD vehicle.. think of it as a big vacuum cleaner.  Its only job is to go up and down the runway sucking up foreign objects for disposal (hence, FOD; objects such as small parts left by maintenance, bits of tires, organic debris from high winds, etc.).  Someone somewhere at the base ops control tower didn’t bother to call the cops to arrest the idiots on the far end of the flight line throwing paper and endangering aircraft, they just sent over an FOD to clean up the paper.  That’s the military for ya.

Somewhat frustrated, the sarge said that they were going to “simulate” someone calling the cops.. and the riot police were going to come and do their thing with us hurling paper rocks at them.  Well, we were all out of “rocks”.  So we ran around the flight line trying to grab them before the FOD truck got them all.

Finally the “riot police” group came.  They had about 15 of them.  So we stood in front of them to give them a target to stomp & drag toward, all the while hurling what was left of the paper rocks and our G rated taunting.  The whole thing was a Keystone Cops event.  We saw our buddies laughing behind their face masks, we laughed back.  Their stomp & drag was so far out of cadence it made Pvt. Gomer Pyle’s buddies look like a precision marching unit by comparison.  The lieutenant finally called a halt to it all and we all went back to CSC to dress down the equipment and go home.  To this day I have no idea what the official report was, if there was any, regarding the exercise.  Your parents’ tax dollars at work.

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Damn long post.  I’m going home.

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One thought on “Tanks And Machine Guns And Grenades… Oh My!

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