…and it was a little bit frightening…

I pray, you pray, we all pray for pepper spray!

 I’m not sure why, but the Marine Corps has a lewd fascination with pepper spray. There is some kind of institutional masochism in place demanding we leap at any opportunity to give Marines a full blast of oleoresin capsicum dead in the face.

My first encounter with this sadism was at Marine Security Guard school in Quantico, VA. At the time the embassy guard program was funded by the State Dept.  We were introduced to weapons not normally issued to Marines. These included the Model 19 .357 revolver, 870m shotgun, the mini-14, and the UZI.

We were further instructed on the Force Continuum and  the full spectrum of violence including non-lethal weapons. Not only were we familiarized with the capability CS grenades, we learned hand cuffing techniques, pressure point control tactics, PR-24 baton, and of course, how to wield pepper spray and amuse your friends at parties.

The exciting portion of non-lethal training was when the instructors lined us up to be sprayed.  The thought process was in order to properly employ pepper spray the user has to understand and experience its effects. In this case, we merely stood there and took a quick shot to the forehead and endured the effects as it dripped into our eyes. Once it took affect we were allowed to dunk our heads in a bucket of water to decontaminate. It didn’t help much.

Still a Lance Corporal, this sounded like complete BS to me. The Marine Corps had successfully trained me to proficiently operate an M-16 rifle without shooting me in the leg in order for me to understand its effects. To get everyone to comply with this barbarism they made enduring pepper spray a requirement for graduation. I grudgingly graduated.

In 2001 I returned to Quantico to attend the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program Instructor Trainer Course.  Throughout the weeks of training we became quite familiar with pepper spray. Clouds of it materialized along engagement courses just as we were about to cross bayonets with the instructors. Pools of oleoresin capsicum inhabited obstacle courses and was used to fertilize the grass of landing zones.

Then of course, was the afternoon we were actually sprayed in the face. What this had to do with hand to hand combat I could not grasp. I already knew the effects of pepper spray and how to employ it so you couldn’t convince me I needed to familiarize myself with it again. It was straight cruelty and, of course, a requirement to graduate.

This time instead of just standing there and taking it to the face we would negotiate through a number of drills including pistol disarms, baton use, take downs, and striking. We would also be carrying our own side arm and would have to use our pistol retention techniques in order to prevent instructors from taking it throughout the drill. With my enthusiasm nearly overwhelming me, I went to the head of the line as is my practice when something looks like it is really going to suck. It not only gives the impression of bravery but also gets things over with sooner vice later.

A stream of pepper spray hit me right between the eyes for a full three seconds. Just long enough for me to wonder if this is what it’s like to have Godzilla piss in my face. Immediately the instructors directed me to the first station at the top of their lungs along with the admonition to: “Strobe your eyes!”

Hmmm, like being sprayed in the face with flaming thumb tacks!

“Strobing” was meant to be helpful advice aiding us to see where we were going by rapidly blinking. The problem is pepper spray makes you want to staple your eyes permanently shut and roll around in hot broken glass. Strobing your eyes with a face full of pepper spray begins with a hip thrusting movement as you fling your head back hoping momentum will open your eyelids for a brief mili-second before crashing down again like a rusty garage door. Strobe my ass.

As the spray took effect the skin on my forehead and face began to burn. The sensation steadily grew worse until it felt like someone had pressed the red hot nozzles of flamethrowers directly into my eye holes. Like running wax the flesh of my eyes melted and ran out of the sockets. My face felt like someone was repeatedly smashing it with a sock full of razor blades.  Only martial pride kept me from piteously vocalizing the sensation. 

Strobing got me in the general direction of the first station. Spitting and blowing the molten spray from my mouth, I closed with the pad wielding Marine and began delivering vicious horizontal elbow strikes as instructed. Fortunately at close range you don’t really need to see what your are hitting so strobing was happily suspended.

Strobing my way to the next station I clinched with the pad man to deliver knee strikes. I pulled the Marine in as close as I could and rubbed my head and face all over his. Cross contaminating him as much as possible, I was rewarded with a hearty expletive. If there’s one thing about Marines, we’re not selfish and are always willing to share.

I felt someone reach for my pistol and repaid his effort with an arm bar take down. This was followed with a wrist lock punctuated by roughly planting my knee on his neck. Zaitoichi was a sissy! I was my very own blind gunslinger.

My memory of the rest of the drill is mostly suffering and strobing through various stations. There were intermittent moments of very brief satisfaction as I got to hit someone or twist their joints painfully. When I say brief I mean I mainly recall running around “strobing” while imps sheathed ice picks into my retina. 

Once the drill was blessedly complete we were allowed to decon our eyes and face for two minutes with a water hose. The sensation of cool water running over my skin was the caress of a fair maiden. As the water rinsed my eyes it felt like two very hot coals were being extinguished and made me want to sigh with relief. This was all a dirty, dirty trick.

As soon as the water shut off it was as if someone had hit me full in the face with a bucket of burning pitch.  It was only with a supreme effort of will I managed to keep myself from screaming into the tree line and gouging my eyes out with twigs.

That evening I watched as all the urban legends concerning pepper spray treatment were proved false by Marines searching for relief. It would appear the only cure for oleoresin capsicum is time. I spent the evening on my hotel balcony in the cool fall air.

Grudgingly, I have to admit to a lesson learned here too. On the battlefield, as in life, pain is merely part of the terrain and not a reason to fold up and quit. We are capable of functioning quite well even when impaired or hurt. I think I prefer being kneed in the groin though. 

And finally, if anyone ever pepper sprays me I am going to break a telephone pole over their back. 

Semper Fidelis,
America’s 1stSgt   

/ / / /


  1. Through of unfortunate series of events involving mounted Civil War reenactors, a three legged goat named Tripod, red clay mud the viscosity of two day old oatmeal and an elderly can of pepper spray keep for protection, Cedric, a friends pet pot-bellied pig, inadvertently chomped down on my can of pepper spray. Cedric would eat anything included 4 year old IBM manuals complete with the staples and ,sadly for Cedric, old cans of pepper spray. After reading your description of the pain I completely understand the outages Cedric committed against the hatchback of my car as I raced him to the emergency vet. Cedric recovered none the worse for the experience. However he never greeted me with as much joyful enthusiasm as before.

  2. Top,
    …and there’s always the snot mixed in with the tears to makes a pepper victim a little harder to grab onto.
    We stopped using the “Force Ladder” concept and use a “Wagon Wheel” concept— you never know what’s going to come in regards to violence, so it may have to go from verbal straight to guns…or from drawing a gun to verbal when they drop theirs.

  3. Anonymous One, pepper spray has that enthusiasm dampening quality to it. Ingesting it cannot lead to anything good happening.

    CI Roller, I think the Marine Corps version of that is the 3 Block War concept. Not sure what they are teach at MSG school now days. It was 16 years ago for me.

  4. “If there’s one thing about Marines, we’re not selfish and are always willing to share.” LMAO

    I thought your bit of creativity (“sharing” the source of your discomfort) was worthy of a special commendation.

    On a serious note: To me, it’s interesting how we have our military going through training that no ordinary human can even imagine, yet the “enhanced techniques” used on avowed stone killers is a great source of Liberal weeping, wailing and outcries of pure crap.

  5. 1. Great writing. Suffered with you through the course.
    2. Had nothing like MCMAP in the old days. The only close combat instruction I was aware of was MP school (c/o Army at Ft. Gordon) and the Scout Sniper Instructor school (weekly king of the hill contests with no eye-gouging rule in force).
    3. The MSG School curriculum was more genteel, too.
    4. Christ, even pugil sticks in boot camp were limited to slash and butt stroke (some hapless recruit had been beaten to death during the full routine).
    5. If some one had used CS outside of an authorized gas chamber -would have resulted in reliefs, charges, special fitness reports. etc.
    6. Actually, had a low flying A-4 dump CS on my unit during a CAX. Felt like getting hit with a ball bat.
    7. If anyone in the force was carrying or using mace derivatives, was not aware of it.
    8. In martial arts training I undertook, we had the crap pounded out of us in less imaginative ways than you have described. The point was that a trained combatant would continue to function after receiving injuries that would disable normal individuals.
    9. Would have taken their word for it and in the event was an easy sell.
    10. Like the MCMAP program on the basis that any instruction is better than none. Am leery of the belt system: skeptical of respect generated by colored pieces of cloth and suspect that even the USMC can figure out a way subvert the credentialing system.
    11. If the sounds like a direct transfer of the level of respect I hold for the oriental martial arts belting system, it is.
    12. Either you is or you isn’t. You find out by stepping in the ring.
    13. Anyway, your Corps is way more professional than mine was. Training up marines so they can fight like buzz saws with everything from teeth and toenails to high tech wonders is the ultimate in professionalism.
    14. When I say today’s Corps is way more professional, I point to your writings among other things as proof.
    V/R JWest

  6. “…lewd fascination with pepper spray.”

    And bayonets. Please tell this old fart that young Marines still slash, smash and buttstroke.

  7. Off target & Not an attempt to promote my favorite gun supply store. . .
    Today I spied the perfect thing for those preparing for the upcoming zombie invasion: Darkotic Zombie Splatter Targets

    The elderly gentleman at Midsouth looked at me through his eyebrows at my talk zombie killing but completely supported the concept of Marines with guns and pet projects . . .

  8. JWest, thanks! We strive live up to the reputation and legacy of the Marines who have gone before. Sometimes it is the hardest thing we have ever done and sometimes it is the time of our lives.

    Shay, I am of the bayonet crowd but I fear a modern fascination with MMA has many enamored with grappling. I am of the mindset of making my foe bleed out vice tap out.

    Ally, zombies are always on topic!

  9. Warrior, such embarrassments should not be posted here. A similar video featuring Marines would contain nothing but disparaging remarks about his pedigree. As I watched it I kept shouting at the screen: “Somebody kick his ass!”

  10. My solution to CS involved a snorkel and a sink of ice water. I tried with out the snorkel but found no effort that would allow me to breathe through my ears. My roommate, a cowardly jackal who had not been sprayed, though this to be the very height of comedy.

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