WARNING: Some materials in this blog may not be suitable for children under 18 years of age. Viewer discretion is advised. Statements made in this blog are personal opinions and do not reflect the views of the Army or the Army National Guard.
May’s Drill began with first formation at the Armory in northern California. The main mission of the day was for our Soldiers to receive training on non-lethal weapons: the Taser stun-gun and Oleoresin Capsicum (“OC”) spray, more popularly known as “pepper spray.”
We boarded school buses that would take us to a military base nearby. After a short ride, we rolled in through the secured front gates of the base. We drove for several miles until we finally pulled into a dusty parking lot surrounded by tall grass. With droopy eyes half-blurred with sleep, we stumbled off the buses and shuffled into what seemed like an old farmer’s shack, at first glance. As we walked in, the deceptive shack revealed a semi-modern classroom with rows of tables, chairs and a large projection screen for digital presentations. It was a sight that seemed out of place among its barren, lonely exterior surroundings.
A female Sergeant (a.k.a “The Screamer”) conducted a PowerPoint presentation on Taser and OC spray training from her laptop. She talked about the possible injuries and death that could occur from Tasers and OC spray. The newbies seated in the front row began to mutter nervously among themselves. After the Powerpoint lecture, we made our way outside towards a group of blue gym mats laid out on the grass. It was time to rock ‘n roll.
We were instructed to take off our Army Combat Uniform tops and remove everything from our pockets, especially all things metal — jewelry, watches, identification tags – anything that would conduct electricity. The prospect of getting shot by a Taser was daunting, knowing that I would have electrical voltage reverberating through my body like a fork stuck in a broken toaster.
A massive crowd gathered to watch, as Soldiers paired into teams for group Tasings. Since human bodies are conductive to electricity, metal pins from the Taser were clipped to Soldiers so that the electric shock would flow through everyone connected in a single line. The first guinea pig Soldiers sat cross-legged on the blue mats, clung to each other, tightened their lips and eyes, held their breaths and braced themselves for their pending doom.
“Taser, taser, taser!” shouted the Screamer, pressing the trigger on her Taser gun for 3 to 5 seconds, followed by the dull “clackety-clackety-clack!” of its electric sparks.
The shocked Soldiers let out blood-curdling screams as their bodies suddenly stiffened, shook for several moments, then collapsed onto the mats like ragged dolls. Laughter broke out, followed by claps, cheers and camera flashes.
A group of female Soldiers decided to take their turn together, holding hands as they sat cross-legged. One female Soldier, Private Garza,* bent her head forward, made a Catholic “Hail Mary” gesture and closed her eyes in prayer.
“Taser, taser, taser!” the Screamer taunted.
The Taser shock jolted Private Garza’s head backwards and sprawled her out against the mats. Her eyeballs rolled into the back of her head while her eyes remained gaped open, exposing the white under-belly of her eyeballs. Her dark eyelashes fluttered uncontrollably.
“Medic!” Sergeant First Class (SFC) Persimmon,* the Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge, urgently shouted, as she stood gazing over Private Garza.
The crowd quickly fell silent, as the male Medic swiftly walked over to check on Private Garza. The Medic always spoke in a steady monotone and carried a calm, almost bored demeanor, as if nothing – nor matter how bloody or horrible — could possibly shock or disturb him.
“Everyone turn around and stop watching!” ordered SFC Persimmon “Turn around! NOW!!!”
We immediately turned around and gazed awkwardly at the tall grass. I suppose having a hundred pair of eyes staring at an already tense situation would only make things worse, especially if there was nothing that anyone could do for the injured Soldier, except for the Medic. A few seconds passed and fortunately, Private Garza soon regained consciousness and walked off of the blue mats, escorted by the Medic. The crowd let out a sigh of relief.
I found little comfort in knowing that I was next in line to get Tased. As I made my way towards the blue mats, I felt as though I were a “dead man walking” towards Death Row in prison. Absurd thoughts began racing through my head; what if the Taser induces a sudden heart attack? Or I get shot in the spine or on a major nerve, and end up confined to a wheelchair or living on daily doses of painkillers for the rest of my life? Had I recently updated the beneficiaries on my life insurance plan? My palms began to sweat profusely.
I finally stepped up to the blue mats, sat down and hooked arms with another female Soldier, followed by two male Soldiers who also hooked arms, thereby creating a human chain. The Screamer clipped a metal pin to my shirt sleeve, while a male Soldier on the end was also clipped – we were now a daisy-chained meat kabob. I prayed the electric grilling would be mercifully quick.
Staff Sergeant (SSG) Bogota and SFC Persimmon stood hovering over me, like a pair of hungry alpha female jackals sniffing the air for the disgusting scent of fear. SSG Bogota stooped down to her knees and waved her index finger directly in my face.
“You’d better not scream,” warned SSG Bogota, her Latin accent as thick as home-made salsa. “You’re representing females, ESPECIALLY as a female from SECOND PLATOON. Do NOT embarrass me.”
I responded with a smile, entertained by such female desire for “machismo.” I mean really, was all this drama necessary? SSG Bogota stood back up, crossed her arms over her chest, and looked on with an expectant gaze as she waited for the electrocution to commence.
“Taser, taser, taser!” the Screamer gleefully chanted, as she squeezed the trigger on her gun….and kept squeezing….and squeezing….pressing down on the trigger for way too long.
“You fucking b-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-itch!” I muttered in my head, as I heard the familiar “clackety-clackety-clack!” of the activated Taser. She was clearly relishing every second of this torture.
A stinging jolt of electricity pierced like an arrow into my right arm, through the plush center of my reverberating heart and whizzed out of my left arm, into the Soldier linked next to me. My eyes instinctively shut. Air rushed out of my lungs. I couldn’t scream, even if I wanted to.
“Take-the-pain-and-hang-on-it’s-almost-over-almost-over-almost-over!,” I fervently repeated to myself, as my neck flung back and my legs writhed like a half-dead cockroach struggling for dear life.
The few agonizing seconds of time felt like slow-pulled taffy. Every muscle in my entire body stiffened in complete paralysis as we all collapsed backwards. When the Tasing finally stopped, the crowd roared with claps and cheers. I opened my eyes and saw SSG Bogota generously extending her hand out to me, to help me back onto my feet.
“Good job, I am so proud of you!” she congratulated. “Yeah, Second Platoon! THAT’s what’s UP!” she boasted, strutting around the field like a peacock with her feathers proudly extended.
“Thanks,” I muttered, half-limping off of the mats while I wore a fake smile. I swear I could still feel stray electrons bombarding through my rib cage. I felt as though my organs had just been microwaved from the inside-out.
Getting Tased is a rite of passage for Military Police Soldiers. I’m glad I was able to face my fears and “ride the lightning,” as they say in the military. Cheers to another once-in-a-lifetime experience in the Army National Guard.
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After a quick lunch at the local “DIFAC” (Dining Facility) on base, we returned to face another rite of passage for Military Police Soldiers: getting OC-sprayed in the eyes. Since I had previously been sprayed twice before and received certification as proof, I was exempt for a lifetime.
I watched as the blue mats were spread out into a circle, to make an obstacle course. Soldiers had to line up and get sprayed with OC in the eyes, carry a heavy jug of water in each hand to prevent wiping their faces, then go through several “stations” by striking foam pads with a training baton – all the while screaming, “Get back! Get back!”
Watching the Soldiers get OC-sprayed was like watching a line of lab rats get systematically tortured. The spraying process was robotic and methodical, while the Soldiers on the receiving end struggled to contain their excruciating pain. There is no dignified way to react, when you feel as though someone has poured lighter fluid on your eyes and set them on fire.
One female Soldier, who I will nickname “Private Fuzzy Patch,” finished the course and ran to the water buffalo tank, screaming hysterically.
“Water! Water!” Private Fuzzy Patch begged, as she kneeled on the ground, her chest heaving as she struggled for air. “Oh my god, I can’t breathe!” she cried to the Medic.
“You can breathe just fine,” reassured the Medic, who stood within a few feet from her. “If you weren’t able to breathe, you wouldn’t be able to talk.”
Private Fuzzy Patch struggled to get water into her eyes from the water buffalo’s spigot, craning her neck while scrubbing baby shampoo and dishwashing soap to de-grease the OC spray. Her hair was sloppily strewn all over her face. Tears and mucus streamed from her eyes and nose. Her camel-colored boots were caked black with mud.
Private Fuzzy Patch’s incessant washing, screaming and cries for water went on for about 20 minutes, until she was finally able to calm down and get back up on her feet. She began to walk around the field to wean herself away from the water buffalo and get some fresh air. A windy breeze lent soothing relief.
“Are you okay?” I asked. I gave Private Fuzzy Patch a pack of tissues to dab at her eyes, which were still weeping from leftover remnants of the fiery-hot OC spray.
“Yeah,” she replied. “That was rough, but I’m glad I went through it. Now I know how it feels and I can help others, when they get sprayed.”
There is a wise adage: “Every day you must test yourself, or else it’s a wasted day.”
This day had certainly been a series of psychological tests that measured our mental strength in conquering the Taser and OC spray. We were forced to face our fears and maintain our military bearing, even while our bodies were physically freaking out in pain.
We cleaned up the area, packed up our gear and boarded the buses back to the Armory. The ride back was silent, as Soldiers lay spent and exhausted.
There is no greater feeling than winning.
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Day 2 of May’s Drill consisted of a fun day of good ‘ole-fashioned Army obstacle courses. After the morning’s first formation at the Armory, we boarded the school buses to the military base nearby, where we had completed the Taser and OC spray training the day before.
The physically challenging obstacles tested every Soldier’s strength, flexibility and mental toughness, especially the ability to overcome the fear of heights — some obstacles towered well over 25 to 35 feet above the ground! In order to conquer the obstacles, Soldiers needed to rely on and trust each other for help. One bad misstep or slip of a nervous hand could have caused a bad fall, resulting in serious injuries. Soldiers formed into four-man teams and cheered each other on, as they carefully maneuvered through each obstacle.
Since I was still recovering from my shoulder injuries, I was tasked to take photos of the training:
Stay tuned to find out what happens in the June 2014 “Two Weeks of Annual Training” issue of MyNationalGuardLife.com.
* Names have been changed to protect the identities of Soldiers and maintain Operational Security.