NC Special Forces students staging secret war around Charlotte for next 2 weeks

A soldier participating one of Fort Bragg’s past Robin Sage exercises.
A soldier participating one of Fort Bragg’s past Robin Sage exercises. cliddy@newsobserver.com

In an example of extreme live-action role-playing, U.S. Special Forces candidates from Fort Bragg are staging a mock war in and around Mecklenburg County this month, as part of a secretive military exercise against the fictitious country of Pineland.

In all, 22 counties in North Carolina and South Carolina are included in the “war,” which started Thursday and runs through July 27. The exercise is the final test faced by Special Forces students, who will live, eat and sleep in civilian areas for the two weeks.

“Residents may hear blank gunfire and see occasional flares,” said a statement from Fort Bragg. “Candidates are placed in an environment of political instability characterized by armed conflict, forcing Soldiers to analyze and solve problems to meet the challenges of this real-world training.”

This includes facing “realistic opposing forces and guerrilla freedom fighters, known as Pineland’s resistance movement.” Those guerrillas are being portrayed by soldiers from other Fort Bragg units, as well as civilian volunteers.

A spokesman for the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School declined to give exact times and locations for the assaults and “key-leader engagements” in Mecklenburg County. This is done to avoid crowds of gawkers, which cause safety problems, officials say.

However, controls are in place to ensure civilians don’t confuse the theatrics for a real attack.

All engagements will be staged on private property, with permission from the owners. And local police and sheriff’s departments will be given advance warning, military officials said.

This is intended to prevent a repeat of an incident that happened in 2002, when a confused Moore County deputy killed one soldier and wounded another soldier involved in the exercises.

Similar confusion reigned during a military exercise in uptown Charlotte in 1997, when a mock invasion left uptown residents terrified by the sounds of 100 commandos in helicopters raiding a warehouse owned by Duke Energy. The urban warfare training assault included the sounds of simulated bombs and gunfire.

Then-Mayor Pat McCrory famously said later that the city got “hoodooed” by Fort Bragg’s lack of details on the intensity of the exercise. Special Warfare Center officials said that exercise was not part of Robin Sage exercises, which occur about six times a year. The size of the exercise depends on the number of students in the class, officials said.

Charlotte area counties included in this year’s exercises including: Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Union, Rowan, Stanly, Anson and Richmond counties. (Marlboro County in South Carolina is also included.)

Military officials say residents with concerns should call local law enforcement officials, who will immediately contact exercise control officials.

Other safety measures put in place:

▪ Formal written notification to the chiefs of law enforcement agencies in the affected counties, with a follow-up visit from a unit representative.

▪ All civilian and non-student military participants are briefed on procedures to follow if there is contact with law enforcement officials.

▪  Students will only wear civilian clothes if the situation warrants, as determined by the instructors, and will wear a distinctive armband during these instances.

▪ Training areas and vehicles used during exercises are clearly labeled.