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Donaldsonville Chief - Donaldsonville- LA
  • Soldiers train in riot control ahead of deployment to Haiti

  • With Haitian citizens struggling to find food and shelter amid chaos and lawlessness after the Jan. 12 earthquake, it's no wonder that Fort Polk's 209th Military Police was recently alerted to deploy to the tiny island.

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  • With Haitian citizens struggling to find food and shelter amid chaos and lawlessness after the Jan. 12 earthquake, it's no wonder that Fort Polk's 209th Military Police was recently alerted to deploy to the tiny island.
    The 163 Fort Polk soldiers going to Haiti are well aware of the conditions they'll face once they reach the island.
    "They're ... hungry and frustrated," said Capt. Andrew Hoeprich, company commander. "But the Haitians are not the enemy."
    Hoeprich and his soldiers will be focused on keeping food distribution orderly and safe. The soldiers will act as a barrier between the food distributors and the Haitians, who are desperate for food and water.
    In such a situation, emotions run high and crowds can grow angry quickly, Hoeprich said. The 209th will be charged with containing those crowds as quickly and safely as possible.
    The soldiers worked Thursday morning on fine-tuning riot control formations that are designed to protect the Haitians as well as the soldiers themselves.
    Key to the riot training is Sgt. Samantha Melanson. The 22-year-old may be tiny at not much more than 5 feet tall, but, as one soldier of the 209th put it, "She's got a big voice."
    Melanson volunteered to deploy with the company in the humanitarian mission. And the 209th is happy to have her and her expertise along, said Lt. Col. Dave Detz, commander of the 519th Military Battalion of which the 209th is a part.
    "She's a real asset to this company," he said. Normally, even if soldiers volunteer, the Army refuses their service if they've recently returned from a deployment.
    Melanson has been back from Taji, Iraq for five months. While she was there, she quickly became an expert in riot control, not only providing protection during a half dozen or so riots, but also instruction to the Iraqi Correctional Officers, the Navy and the Army. 
    Though the mission to Haiti is humanitarian, which differs dramatically from a combat mission, some of the elements remain the same, said Capt. Andrew Hoeprich, commander of the  209th.
    The riot police is usually made up of three teams. The shield team wears full riot gear, including body shields, and faces the rioters head-on. Behind them the support team literally holds the shield team upright and in place when rioters begin trying to push through. Behind the support team, snatchers stand ready to grab agitators who break through or pull wounded people out of harm's way. 
    "Line formation!" shouts Melanson to 1st Platoon soldiers who quickly move to form an impenetrable line of shields and soldiers.
    "Agitators" begin trying to break through the line, only to bounce back from the shields. The "wounded" litter the ground.
    "Five steps forward!" shouts Melanson. The line of soldiers moves forward as one unit, undeterred by the agitators who come against the line time after time with fists and feet flying. 
    Page 2 of 2 - "Five steps forward!" Melanson shouts again as she surveys the scene, looking for holes in the line that is slowly but surely approaching the first of the wounded.
    "Five steps forward!" The line begins to swallow up the wounded, and hands reach out to drag them to safety behind the unbroken line.
    Agitators continue to throw themselves against the shields. As the wounded are taken care of, the line allows first one, then another agitator to break through so that the snatch team can grab them and provide an opportunity for calmness to prevail.
    According to Hoeprich, riot control police have three formations to call on. The first is the column formation. Soldiers line up two-by-two so that they can quickly move to the necessary position.
    The line formation allows them to become a human shield for whomever or whatever they're protecting.
    The circle formation is a last ditch effort to protect themselves in the event that rioters somehow surround the soldiers.
    During a riot, a commander will likely be in spot to view the scene in its entirety. The commander will relay commands for the unit to the platoon sergeant who will then relay the commands to the platoon itself.
    The 209th, which is made of four platoons of about 40 soldiers each, received little notice of its upcoming deployment. Hoeprich expects to leave in the next four days or so, but has no guarantee of a date of departure, he said.
    Leesville Daily Leader
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