CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - Tension fills the air as the two groups stand apart: one, a large group of men shouting, chanting and jumping; the other group is smaller and nearly silent as they form a wall and prepare for the inevitable clash.
A large group of men shout, chant and taunt a few guards, and then Crowd and Riot Control (CRC) soldiers arrive, wrapped head-to-toe in body armor, with shields and batons at the ready. They form a line, ready to repel the taunting crowd. One plastic bottle is thrown from within the crowd and all hell breaks loose.
This was the scene for crowd and riot control teams from Germany, Italy, Portugal and Slovenia as they faced platoons from A Company, 1st Battalion, 296th Infantry Regiment, Multinational Battle Group East (MNBG E), during a two-day joint training exercise in locations across MNBG West's area of operation, Aug. 11 and 12.
The 296th Soldiers were given the chance to help the multinational soldiers in their crowd and riot control training.
"Coming in to this we were all pretty excited for this training," said 1st Lt. Sammy A. Lugo, Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, platoon leader, 296th. "Using a new unit for training like this is always helpful. My guys have never seen these Soldiers in action, neither would a real crowd. So this training is a little more realistic than if they had used someone that knows their procedures and protocols.
Plus, it's always good to work with our multinational partners, we can always learn from each other."
The training scenarios had the Soldiers from the 296th playing the part of the aggressive crowd, a new role for the Soldiers from the Puerto Rico National Guard, and one they were excited to be put into.
"This is great," said Spc. Khristoffer Sandoval, Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, infantryman, with 3rd Platoon of the 296th. "We actually get to be the rowdy, loud ones for once; we get to give someone else a hard time. This is a lot of fun."
The Soldiers of 296th have been performing CRC training for three months at locations in the United States and in Europe, where they were the ones taking the beatings.
"In (Camp Atterbury, Ind.) and Hohenfels (Germany) we were constantly getting beat on (during CRC training)," said Spc. Max A. Ginorio, Isabela, Puerto Rico, infantryman, 3rd Platoon. "Being on this side of the shield is a little different, but it gives us a chance to see how other nations do the same job we do and see if we can improve our way by using some of their techniques."
The training scenario called for U.S. Soldiers to protest at cell phone towers, monasteries, historical sites and the gates of Villaggio Italiano, the Italian headquarters for MNBG W.
"Protesting at the gates of the base was great," said Sgt. Louis J. Mercado, also from Cabo Rojo, infantryman, 296th. "You see things completely differently when you are on the outside looking in. It's something everyone should experience."
The Soldiers from the 296th weren't the only ones that enjoyed this new experience.
"This joint training is great" said Portuguese Army Pvt. Joel Pinto. "These guys get pretty crazy, just like a real riot. It's also good to see unfamiliar faces on the other side of the riot shield."
The training crossed battle group boundaries and allowed soldiers that wouldn't get the chance to work together the opportunity to meet new soldiers and is something the 269th is looking forward to doing again.
"I really hope we get a chance to do this again," said Sgt. Angel Acevedo, Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, infantryman, 296th. "Working with Soldiers from so many countries in just a few days is an opportunity that doesn't come around often. I would love to do this again."