Originally created 08/17/00

Army trains for handling of civilians



The Army always has trained its warriors to fight armed enemies. But this week, some Fort Gordon soldiers learned how to handle innocent bystanders.

As part of an exercise, the soldiers of the fort's 63rd Signal Battalion had to use "less than lethal" force to control crowds of curious civilians.

Modern soldiers, officers said, are more likely to face such impediments than an armed military adversary. Those problems are part of the branch's increasing role in international-aid efforts in places such as Haiti, Honduras and Argentina.

"I am highly confident that these soldiers could go into combat and do well, but humanitarian assistance offers different challenges, and we need to teach that, too," said Col. Keith Snook, commander of the 93rd Signal Brigade, of which the 63rd Signal Battalion is part.

To prepare the soldiers, officers drew scenarios from real-world experiences of soldiers deployed to humanitarian missions, Col. Snook said.

Soldiers from the 63rd's sister battalion, the 67th, graded their counterparts' performance and also played the "civilians."

That meant Sgt. Derrick Traylor, a man who has carried an M-16 assault rifle and knows how to use it, found himself carrying something else Wednesday morning - a "baby" fashioned from flannel and foam.

The bundle was handed to him by a "mother" at the camp's perimeter. A Marine faced the same situation, for real, during a mission in Haiti, Col. Snook said.

Elsewhere, Capt. Robert Porter had to negotiate with the residents of a shantytown erected where his Alpha Company had expected to camp.

"We've got a force out there that's prepared to repel a hostile, aggressive force, so having people ask for food and water is a new twist on things," Capt. Porter said.

After negotiations were complete and camp was built, the locals returned - this time to demand "rent" of 50 military "meals ready-to-eat" and 50 gallons of water.

"I talked them down to 5 gallons of water and some cigarettes," said 1st Lt. Eric Strom, operations officer for Alpha Company.

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409 or bhaddock@augustachronicle.com.