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.