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Military exercises in Worcester a surprise to residents, including the local police?

Above: Worcester, MA on August 2, 2012

UPDATE: Worcester! Take action! Tell the City Council that you want the government to consult residents before allowing this kind of operation in the future, and demand an investigation into who knew what, when, and why you weren't informed!

On Thursday, August 2, 2012 there was a military exercise in downtown Worcester, MA, the second largest city in New England after Boston. Chris Robarge, ACLU of Massachusetts field organizer for central Massachusetts, lives in Worcester and witnessed what he describes as a terrifying raid.

It was seven helicopters (three huge Blackhawks and four smaller ones, MH-6 maybe?) doing exercises at the old Worcester Auditorium, and it lasted from just after 7PM to just before 11PM. They would fly in from the west REALLY low, drop dudes with guns on the roof of the building or on the street in front of it, and then they would fly back and hover somewhere over the West Side. There was gunfire and a couple big explosions. The entirety of Lincoln Square (busiest intersection in the city) was closed to cars and pedestrians.

Robarge says he went down to Lincoln Square to try to see what was going on, and spoke with a police officer who told him that top brass gave officers no prior warning about the exercises. The police officer he spoke with was as surprised as everyone else to see military helicopters and heavily armed US forces swooping low over apartment buildings in downtown Worcester.

One of the buildings under the fly-overs, well within hearing range of the explosions and gunfire, hosts a shelter for US military veterans. July Fourth prompted a number of articles about how fireworks can trigger anxiety attacks and other PTSD associated problems in war veterans. Holding these exercises in the near vicinity of a shelter for vets therefore seems like an odd choice.

The Worcester training operation follows on the heels of a similar event last year, as well as numerous other major urban area US military training exercises over the past few years, including but not limited to similar operations in Los Angeles and Boston. The military calls the operations "urban terrain training," which begs the question: What kind of urban terrain they are planning to invade or occupy given that these exercises are happening in major US metropolitan areas, quite apart from the fake "Arab cities" the military has trained in for years?

A representative for the US military spoke with the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, revealing that there were also operations in Boston and Norfolk County:

Maj. Potter said units from across the state were doing military operations and urban terrain training. She said the exercise, which started about 9 p.m., was coordinated with the appropriate city and county officials and property owners.
 
“All safety precautions have been taken to prevent unnecessary risks to either the participants or any residents or their property,” Maj. Potter said. “We apologize for any inconvenience or unforeseen disturbance.”
 
The training involved approximately 100 people and many helicopters. Maj. Potter declined to divulge the number of aircraft.
 
She said the training was routine and was done in Boston, Worcester and Norfolk County over the past week. Local police secured the areas around Lincoln Square tonight where the choppers were landing.

ACLU staffer Chris Robarge wrote the following letter to the city council, expressing his discomfort with the military exercise in his neighborhood. He has yet to receive a response. Check back here for updates.

I am writing because I am upset and concerned that for the second consecutive year, we have just had major military exercises conducted over the heart of the city, and late on a weeknight to boot, and absolutely no advanced notice of what was happening.
 
For almost four hours (until almost 11PM), seven helicopters were flying back and forth from downtown towards the west less than 100 feet overhead with men and guns hanging from them, and there were explosions in the area of Lincoln Square and the Auditorium. Lincoln Square itself was entirely closed for a span of several blocks. I could go on…I've attached a photo to give you some idea if you didn't see it yourself, but no single photo can do justice to just how unsettling and disruptive it was.
 
Personally, I don't believe that the downtown of a major metro area is an appropriate place for military exercises to be conducted, period. It's an issue of quality of life (try to sleep with Blackhawks buzzing your house) and a safety issue as well. What if one of those helicopters crashed? What if an ambulance needs to get down Highland Street? What if someone is frightened enough by not knowing what is happening that they suffer a heart attack? This is the 2nd largest city in New England and a home to 186,000 people. It is not a military base.
 
I think that MINIMALLY, there must be a heads-up given if these exercises are conducted here again. This is what happens when they do these trainings in other places, why is it not happening here? Why aren't we using reverse 911? Why aren't we using the AlertWorcester notification system? I understand some level of operational security, but a simple "Heads-up, at some point in the next day or two there will be lots of helicopters flying around. Everything is fine" would've gone a long way…
 
No one I've been able to speak with has had any advanced notice, but there's a huge contingent of law enforcement that comes to watch and a traffic detail, so clearly someone knows ahead of time. I am asking that someone make a basic effort to make sure that the citizens of the city know as well, because what happened last night (and at the same time last year) was completely unacceptable. If the police are aware of this in advance, they need to be notifying the council and the city in general.
Check out other reactions from people in Worcester.
 
Read more on militarization at home.

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