Enlisting yourself in the military and law enforcement means accepting the dangers and assaults you might encounter while performing your duties. This includes the intense ones like ambushes, being showered with bullets, and maybe being surprised by bombing attacks. This also consists of the slightly less extreme ones, like being filmed while receiving hurls of not-too-pleasant words from the civilians for doing your job or dealing with protesters and being splashed in the face with pepper sprays.

The job of the United States Military training is to prepare the recruits to know what to do precisely when these scenarios happen in real life. And since experience is the best teacher, why not experience the much dreaded, painful, unforgettable, and probably traumatizing OC spray training?

Dante’s 10th Circle (OC Spray)

Oleoresin capsicum spray, OC spray, popularly known as pepper spray, is a lachrymatory agent or lachrymator. It is a compound that irritates the eyes, resulting in a burning sensation, pain, and possibly temporary blindness. These are usually used in riot control, crowd control, and self-defense, even against dogs and bears.

How it works is that the inflammatory effects of the spray cause the eyes to close. This temporary loss of vision allows the officers to easily restrain the subjects or give the people in danger some time to run away and escape. In addition, the discomfort and burning of the throat and lungs could cause shortness of breath. Combined with the eye irritation, it would be pretty hard to focus on anything other than the pain. That’s what the training wanted to avoid precisely, for the officers and soldiers to be disoriented and unable to carry out their duty.

Airman 1st Class DeAaron Alexander received level-one contamination of oleoresin capsicum from Senior Airman Daniel Miller on Feb. 27, 2015, at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. (US Air Force from the USA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Despite all these, OC spray is non-lethal, and the effects can usually be mitigated by running a direct stream of water to the eyes to flush away the chemicals. Its average effect could last up to 30 minutes.

The Training of Doom

During training, trainees line up in the field and go one by one in front of the instructors. The instructors each hold an aluminum canister. Once it’s your turn, you stand with your arms on the side as the officer squirts the Z of agony across your face for half to one second, about 36 inches away from you. Then, as the pain starts to kick in, you will hear the scream telling you to get into action and perform a series of five assessment stations. You do all these while trying to keep your eyes open and your composure and sanity tucked in so you don’t just stop dead in your tracks and beg for someone to please douse your face off with water.

The trainee must also simulate fending off a threat, and when that’s all said and done, you can finally wash your face and hope that you successfully washed all the chemicals off. Otherwise, it’ll be back with revenge once you take a shower and have the water reactivate the remnants of OC.

As an article from the US Army’s website wrote:

Military Police and DACP had to learn to deal with the effects of Oleoresin Capsicum (OC), also commonly known as “pepper spray.” The participants are sprayed to understand the effects of OC spray, and then are required to complete a course while under the influence of OC to better prepare them for accidental cross-contamination and build their confidence.

Finally, you get that required certification and can carry that canister on your belt with pride. You’re now certified OC’d.

US Army Spc. Andrew Detwiler, a military policeman with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, holds his eye open as a medic flushes it with water to neutralize the effects of oleoresin capsicum spray. (Spc. Robert Holland, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

“I’d rather be shot than sprayed with OC again.”

Our very own Alex Hollings also shared his personal experience when he had the opportunity to participate in several interesting and exciting training revolutions, including being pepper-sprayed. Here’s his story:

As I approached the field we were to train in, I couldn’t help but feel a bit like I was walking onto the stage of a military-themed episode of Nickelodeon’s Double Dare… and even as I watched a handful of Marines execute the course ahead of me, I remained blissfully ignorant of the horror I was about to endure right up until I was next in line. After all, the entire course could be completed in just a few minutes… how bad could it be?

Then I got sprayed in the face. The military police Master Sergeant tasked with leading the course delivered a perfectly executed “Z” across my eyes, nose and mouth, instantly leaving me gasping for air and cinching my eyes tightly shut. I had seen a number of Marines ahead of me instantly freeze after being impacted by the spray, a move I considered not tactically sound, as a real life or death situation likely wouldn’t permit you such an opportunity; so I responded to the sudden, searing pain that engulfed my face with sheer instinct and adrenaline… and attacked the man who sprayed me with a bull rushed, double leg take down, despite the clear instructions being shouted my way by other instructors attempting to corral me into the set parameters of the exercise.

The master sergeant, understanding as he was, threw me off of him, called me some colorful names, and commanded that I get to my feet and get after the first obstacle in the course. I attempted to shout an affirmative, only to find my ability to breathe still rather limited. Instead, I gurgled a whimpering something and set about my way.

Honestly, the course was pretty easy. Punch this, dodge that, kick that guy, don’t let the other one smash you in the face with that padded club, low crawl, and so forth. At that point, I was already a brown belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, which meant that, even if I was a below average fighter, I still had lots and lots of experience running through these kinds of courses. As I neared the end, the pain hadn’t subsided, but impending victory numbed the burning a bit – it was all almost over, and I had almost won.

Alex Hollings after his OC spray training. (Alex Hollings/SOFREP)

The problem, I soon learned, with completing the course was that it left me without a task to focus on. Instead of sheer determination leading me through the pain to the next challenge, I was now just walking around in a circle, trying not to get too much snot on my skivvy shirt and attempting to maintain my composure around thirty other Marines, each doing the same in various ways.

(You can read his whole painfully entertaining story here.)