Marines, French Gendarmerie quiet the riots

Marines, French Gendarmerie quiet the riots

Marines with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa, form a shield wall at the National Gendarmerie Training Center in St. Astier, France, June 19, 2015. The Marines trained to operate through dense smoke and riot-control gas while maintaining tightly organized formations. Marine Corps photo by 1stLt Danielle Dixon.

SAINT ASTER, France - Crisis-response Marines held their position alongside men and women from the Escadron de Gendarmerie Mobile, a unit with France's national police force known as the Gendarmerie, while more than 50 rioters threw flaming Molotov cocktails, bricks, and tear gas at the National Gendarmerie Training Center in St. Astier, France, June 18-22.

"We got to do something we don't normally get to do today. We took a step away from all of the rifles and picked up some shields and batons, and tried some new skills," said 1stLt Scott Vicino, the platoon commander with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa.

France's National Gendarmerie is a branch of the country's armed forces tasked with maintaining public safety and conducting police duties. Stationed aboard MorĂ²n Air Base, Spain, the SPMAGTF serves as a rotational crisis-response force for U.S. Africa Command and remains ready to respond to a variety of missions, some almost identical to what the Gendarmerie routinely rehearse.

Throughout the final exercise, subsequent scenarios continued to build on the last in intensity and violence. Each mission became more complicated as the two forces needed to work together as simulated neighboring embassies.

"The Marines are getting things thrown at them. They've got gas masks on. They can't hear anything. They can't see anything," explains Vicino. "The communication is implicit."

LtCol Jean-Luc Renault, the course director, hailed the exercise as both successful and applicable to mission sets both units may be called to complete. This is his second time working personally with the U.S. Marines after his initial experience with SPMAGTF-CR-AF in December 2014.

Since 1996, the unit's instructor corps has trained numerous foreign units not only during common joint exercises with organizations such as NATO, but also the European Police Force, European Gendarmerie Force, and even Swedish units that return each year.

"The goal of these courses," Renault explains, "is not only to improve our mutual understanding in both crowd and riot control and combat missions, but overall to be able to work together on missions abroad dealing with evacuation of nationals and protection of goods and properties."

By the conclusion of the exercise, the joint force mastered maneuvering in unison and providing their own cover, all without verbal commands. Implicit communication was critical, as the scenarios left little room for error or time to entertain alternate solutions. The training scenarios ranged from non-violent demonstrators and citywide riots to hostage recovery, where the Marines learned how to effectively lead and tacitly communicate amidst the disorder.

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