Story by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jose Madrigal
PACIFIC OCEAN – On a clear, cool, breezy morning, a group of Nimitz Sailors anxiously stand on the fantail of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and mentally prepare for the task ahead. One by one, each Sailor steps up and awaits instruction. Facing away from the instructor, Sailors are directed to turn around with their eyes closed. Upon taking that 180 degree turn, Sailors hear the words many never want to hear directed at them, “OC, OC.” A quick half second burst across the forehead later, a painful burning sensation takes over.
What the Sailors felt was a burst of oleoresin capsicum (OC), also known as pepper spray, which was part of a security training evolution Nov. 16.
The purpose of the course was to familiarize Sailors with the effects of OC, so they already understand its effects if they are exposed during a hostile encounter. Some Sailors reaction was instant, while others had a slight delay. Shortness of breath, blurred vision and pain hindered the Sailors. Regardless of the difficulties, they pushed through the course.
After the spray portion, Sailors completed obstacles demonstrating their abilities to apply verbal commands, mechanical advantage control holds (MACH), take downs, baton strikes and defensive blocks. Using skills learned in Between the Lifelines (BTL) class, Sailors worked through the course before applying their skills in a battle with the ‘Red Man’. The Red Man is a master-at-arms in a protective padded suit who simulates a security threat Sailors must take down.
“Between the Lifelines is two different courses combined into two weeks,” said course instructor Master-at-Arms 1st Class Andrew Duckett, from Hickory, North Carolina. “The purpose of the first week is to introduce basic knowledge to Sailors on topics ranging from use of force to watchstanding. The second week focuses on reaction forces and small team movements to overcome threats.”
Duckett, who was also involved in the OC spray exercise, stressed to Sailors the importance of keeping their focus because the hazards outside the training environment are real.
“Unfortunately, one common outcome when OC is deployed is that anyone involved could wind up getting contaminated in one way or another,” said Duckett. “The purpose of the confidence course is to let the Sailors know they can still function and have the perseverance to win the fight.”
Demonstrating proper techniques and take downs on simulated threats can be difficult, but factor in OC spray, and it becomes exponentially harder.
“It’s like getting shampoo in your eyes, but only a million times worse,” said Electronics Technician 3rd Class Nick Flory, from Southbend, Indiana. “Going into this evolution, I came in with a can-do attitude. I did my best to set the pain aside, and let the adrenaline and instinct take over.”
Like Flory, all the Sailors successfully completed the course and took down the Red Man with the assistance of a battle buddy and instructor. The duo helped guide the Sailors through the course and provided commands and encouragement.
“I told the Sailor to start breathing and take down the ‘suspect’,” said Duckett in regard to helping a struggling Sailor. “The Sailor, even though under extreme duress, followed my command and completed the course within the required parameters.”
Besides realizing how painful OC is, Sailors learned they now have the ability and power within themselves to push through the effects of OC and complete the task at hand.
“I heard at least four Sailors say ‘I can’t do it’, but they did it,” said Duckett. “In a real life scenario, the suspect isn’t going to be in a full padded suit. In real life, they could be faced with a fight for life or death.”
Although many stated it was an unpleasant experience, Sailors left the fantail knowing firsthand the effects of OC; an experience few have the displeasure to undergo, but an experience that will better prepare them to work security when their time comes.
The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is on a regularly scheduled deployment in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts.