August 31, 2016, by David McCauley – Military personnel are expected to function under pressure, even in uncomfortable or painful situations. One major cause of non-lethal discomfort and pain in the repertoire of military police is pepper spray, also known as OC spray (oleoresin capsicum). It’s used in policing, crowd control, and in self-defense. Pepper spray causes inflammation of the eyes and mucous membranes, making it difficult to see, breath, and function in any coordinated manner. It surprises many civilians that military police get OC sprayed during training. Being subjected to pepper spray is an unpleasant experience, just like the tear gas chamber in Basic Training. Why do they do it, what purpose does it serve, and why does it hurt so much?
Why Do Military Police Get Pepper Sprayed During Training?
Gaining firsthand experience on the receiving end of pepper spray and tear gas accomplishes a few things. Having knowledge of the effects of pepper spray is one thing, but it’s something that cannot be understood purely from lectures. Different people react in different ways to the chemicals, and firsthand knowledge is power.
OC spray disperses widely when activated. It is possible to be caught in your own OC blast, or to be caught in the spray of someone else when they aim near you. Military personnel must know what it feels like and learn how to overcome and function despite the effects. Being subject to OC spray also teaches you to respect its power. Understanding exactly what having ‘irritated mucous membranes’ means will teach you to use this tool only when absolutely necessary.
Exposure to CS gas on the other hand teaches you the value of your gas masks. When you see that you’re safe and breathing completely normally through your respirator and then are forced to remove it, you’ll learn to trust your equipment.
Why the heck does OC spray hurt so much?
Welcome to the jungle. The culprit is capsaicin, the same chemical that scalds your tastebuds at the local sports grill via hot wings. Capsaicin is a powerful chemical that is contained in chili peppers and is in a variety of different ways. From seasoning soup to busting bad guys, capsaicin is no laughing matter.
University of Cincinnati professor Joel E. Mortensen studied the history, usage, and benefits of capsaicin in a study titled, “The Power of Capsaicin.” He identifies that the secret of the power of capsaicin is in its chemical properties. Prof. Mortensen writes, “Although one might want to grab a glass of water to put out the fire, the long hydrocarbon ends of capsaicinoids do not dissolve in water.”
This is the exact reason why rinsing your eyes after being on the receiving end of pepper spray does no good. Pepper spray causes temporary blindness that can last up to 30 minutes. In the meantime, you’ll find it difficult to breath and extremely painful. All branches of the US Military use OC spray and train military police how to use it and how to function while suffering from its effects. Military police and personnel receive this training to give them the best chance of success no matter what the situation.
About the Author: D.M. McCauley is a former U.S. Navy sailor who worked in Intel. After the service he has dedicated his time to writing and traveling with his significant other.