FORT PICKETT, Va. — Soldiers from the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conducted less-than-lethal training with members of the Richmond City Police July 28 at Fort Pickett to increase their proficiency in providing support while pairing with civil authorities in a time of crisis. The battalion is designated as the Virginia Guard’s Incident Response Force Package and will be among the first units called to state active duty.
“The concept of the operation was that there was a riot incited due to an explosion and (the Virginia Guard and Richmond Police) were called in to restore order and ensure the safety of the people throughout the town,” said Sgt. 1st Class Gustavo Sequeira, a platoon sergeant with Company B, 1st Batt., 116th Inf. Reg., 116th IBCT.
Sequeira said that the difficulty of the exercise was increased by having trained infantry Soldiers acting as the rioters and the realism was augmented by the presence of the Richmond Police.
“This training is different than the mentality infantry Soldiers begin with, you know, we go from being aggressive, thinking about the enemy and how to neutralize them to switching over to being a first responder who is there to not injure, but to help people,” said Sequeira. “The presence of the Richmond Police adds a level of realism. It keeps the Soldiers focused and lets them know that this is not just some (training) we have to do, but this is something that has a purpose and it allows them to see how they really can positively affect a situation.”
The training scenario called for the Richmond Police to deploy their mounted unit which teamed with the Virginia Guard Soldiers to neutralize the rioting crowd.
“This allows us to maintain readiness by giving us the exposure to a full scale event and helps us to improve our processes through a real-world simulated-type experience,” said Sgt. John Barkley, Richmond Police Officer-in-charge for crowd management. “This training will leave us better prepared for any large scale type protest that could come into the city of Richmond. Richmond is the capital of Virginia, so we host many events and we have had large political type protests in the past.”
Rich Fecht, the master control officer and horse trainer for the Richmond Police, said that having officers mounted on horses allows the speed and efficiency of any crowd disbursement team to be improved.
“One horse can take care of around 10-15 people,” said Fecht. “ If you have a larger group of say 30 or more people and you have five horses, they can easily diffuse that situation a lot faster. In this type of situation, the longer it continues on, the worst it can get.”
“If we can assist the (National Guard) by punching a whole through the crowd to help diffuse the situation, then we can help lessen the problem and it makes it easier on everyone, he said.
Overall for the Richmond Police, the training allowed them to gain valuable experience.
“We don’t get the opportunity to have training like this very often and to actually set up these types of scenarios is a special opportunity for us to get these (horses) acclimated to the situation and the officers too,” said Fecht. “We have a lot of officers who haven’t really seen that type of scenario, so it is good for them to see that type of situation; it really does a good job of covering the whole spectrum of what we could experience.”
When the Soldiers and police officers arrived on the scene the rioters were prepared to use aggressive tactics to prevent them from causing them to disburse.
“Our job was to kind of cause havoc and make life more difficult for the Soldiers and police when they arrived by pushing them, throwing (debris) and generally not responding to their direction,” said Spc. Nick Stapleton, an infantryman with Company C, 1st Batt., 116th Inf. Reg., 116th IBCT, and rioter for the day. “We were all pretty impressed with the level of professionalism the Soldiers showed, because we definitely didn’t make it easy on them.”
“I also thought the police worked really well with the National Guard,” said Stapleton. “When those horses came through the line we all moved out of the way, we didn’t know if we were going to get kicked, trampled or bit. When these two groups work together, the people of that community should feel safe knowing that rioters don’t stand a chance.”
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