MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- An ominous squad of Marines double-timed in formation to the front of the food distribution site, and the rioting crowd suddenly stepped back. A wall of shields stood between the crowd and the Marines. The intimidating Marine Force, clad in shields, facemasks and leg-pads is the Corps' answer to resolving low-intensity conflict.
"React Up!" shouted SSgt. David McColgan, the 13th MEU's non-lethal platoon commander.
The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit's non-lethal force, A Battery 1/11, Battalion Landing Team 3/1, was employed for the Humanitarian Assistance Operation April 17-19 during the MEU's Composite Training Unit Exercise 00-2.
If the rioters had continued to test the Marines, McColgan could have announced through his bullhorn, "Shotguns tap down!" and four shields would lower with shotguns peering over the top. The shotguns can fire non-lethal ammunition, such as bean bags, rubber pellets and rubber slugs, which are intended to stop or injure someone instead of kill. The platoon also has four M-203 grenade launchers with non-lethal ammunition at their disposal.
"Even though, as Marines, we are trained to kill," explained Sgt. James Campbell, a 27-year-old squad leader from Peoria, Ill., "sometimes it is better just to keep people from injuring you, especially when you are trying to keep the peace.
"When we go into a friendly area, these tactics allow us to push the rioters back without seriously injuring or killing them."
If it becomes necessary to use lethal force, however, the platoon is prepared. "Just because we are called a "non-lethal" unit, doesn't mean we are not allowed to use lethal force," said Capt. Louis Palazzo, A Battery 1/11 commander and native of Bronx, N. Y. The rules of engagement in each situation help determine when lethal force is autorized.
Whether it is lethal or non-lethal, most of the tactics and procedures are new to the Marines of A Battery, explained Campbell. "In artillery, we aren't used to seeing front-line combat, we are usually farther away. Now we are thrust into the thick of it."
"Even though we will probably only be employed in this way during a HAO, any situation can easily turn into combat," said McColgan, a Cape May, N.J. native. "That is one of the reasons we are here, to try to stop a peaceful situation from turning into a hostile one."