Army Surprise Training
Assaults Spur Conspiracy Fears
By Jim Day And Mary Lee Grant
>Staff Writers
A training assault on abandoned buildings in Kingsville by Army Special Forces troops last week has resulted in an alarm on the Internet by those concerned about an armed government takeover.
Kingsville Police Chief Felipe Garza said he has received complaints from as far away as California and Florida and has been invited to speak on talk-radio programs about the urban-warfare training exercises.
He has declined those invitations, saying he and other city officials were happy to help the Army in its training exercises and would invite the soldiers back again if asked. He said he has no intention of getting into ideological arguments with people he calls "alarmists."
"I'm not going to change their minds, and they're not going to change mine. I'm not going to get into it with them," Garza said. "Citizens here haven't been complaining."
On Feb. 8, about 60 soldiers from Army Special Forces teams based in Fort Bragg, N.C., swooped in on eight helicopters for a training assault on abandoned buildings in downtown Kingsville. Explosions and rifle fire startled nearby residents, and the attack caused a fire that gutted an abandoned police building and blew windows out of another building nearby.
The soldiers have remained in the area, doing training exercises in Port Aransas and in the Annaville/Calallen area. They are expected to continue their exercises this week in and around Corpus Christi before leaving the area by Saturday, said Walter Sokalski, a spokesman for the Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg.
The Special Forces teams are practicing techniques for urban warfare, Sokalski said. Under cover of darkness, the elite troops use training ammunition and explosives to attack the target areas, he said. The exercises are loud, but they're safe, he added. "We do an exhaustive risk assessment to make sure nothing comes out of the blast area," Sokalski said, adding that the Army planned the exercises months in advance with local officials.
Corpus Christi City Manager David Garcia said Monday that the city had been preparing for the operations and that he was happy to help the Army in its training.
"If we decided that we didn't want to support the United States military, we could have told them to stay out of the community," Garcia said. "I would like for these people to know what they are doing when they go out and actually try to protect America. "They told us that they prefer to keep this information confidential and asked us to respect that. That's what we've been doing," he added.
Conspiracy theories
Others, however, may not see the training as so benign. One of the reports about the training exercises circulating on the Internet is at The story appears under the headline, "Armed and Dangerous: Is the U.S. Army Invading Texas? - Fear and Loathing in Kingsville."
Another report found in a conspiracy newsgroup - - noted that reports of the exercise have been circulating on radio and shortwave programs. On talk-radio programs, callers were linking the training exercises to the possible societal meltdown when the Y2K problem hits, after which the government will supposedly declare martial law.
But even outside of conspiracy circles, some officials are upset that residents have not been informed of the training exercises. On Monday, Kleberg County commissioners voted unanimously to write a letter to officials with Army Special Forces asking them to inform county officials and the public in advance if they perform another military training exercise.
Tomas Sanchez, the county's emergency management coordinator and veterans service officer, said he was not informed about the maneuvers before they took place. The county judge and commissioners also said they didn't know about the exercises.
"I was in Austin for training and all of a sudden my beeper started going ballistic," Sanchez said. "I had no idea what to tell people, because I did not know it was going on."
Unwanted risk
Sanchez said that if he had known, he would have tried to stop the exercises. "I think they are dangerous to the people of Kingsville, " he said. "There have been a lot of crashes of low-flying helicopters in these type of maneuvers, and in one instance citizens on the ground were killed. I don't think it is a risk we want to take." Sanchez said he thinks the Army should have had public affairs officers come in after the exercise and explain what had happened.
"This puts the Army in a very bad light," Sanchez said. "It scares citizens to see black unmarked helicopters and men jumping out of them in black Ninja suits."
Sanchez said that the maneuvers may have been related to the Y2K problem and were a possible preparation for martial law as the year 2000 approaches.
"The American public is not the enemy," Sanchez said.
Terrified residents
Commissioner Romeo Lomas said he lives two blocks from where the exercises took place and took calls from many terrified residents in his precinct.
"There are a lot of elderly people that live in Casa Ricardo and other places near there," Lomas said. "They were very scared. Some people thought the bank was robbed. One woman thought the world was coming to an end and went into her room and started praying. She said her heart was pounding like mad. If they want to do exercises in urban warfare, let them do it in Miami. Kingsville is a rural area."
County Judge Allen May said he wished he had been told about the maneuvers. "I was getting calls from reporters from Washington andAustin asking what happened and I had to say I didn't know," May said.
Lomas said that Police Chief Garza should have thought before he allowed the forces to come to Kingsville. "Now we are all taking the blame," he said.
Other uproars
Similar exercises have caused uproars in other cities in the past. In June 1996, police in Pittsburgh were swamped with phone calls after about 50 Special Forces troops started rappelling from helicopters during a mock attack on abandoned warehouses.
One witness reported the attack sent his pregnant wife into labor, and radio talk shows were filled with callers concerned about "black helicopters" and possible military attacks on American citizens, according to news accounts at the time. And in March 1997, city officials in Charlotte, N.C., asked Army special operations troops to take their exercises elsewhere after more than 100 soldiers began attacking an abandoned bus garage and warehouse downtown, according to news accounts.
When Charlotte City Councilman Malachi Greene came into the neighborhood that evening, he found startled residents carrying weapons in case the troops advanced, he said. Corpus Christi residents in the Annaville area said they were not startled when they saw the helicopters involved in the exercises Sunday evening.
"They were landing out by the refineries, and then flying real low along by the river," area resident Charlie Maroon said. He said he counted two or three helicopters without their lights on as he and neighbors watched the exercises for about an hour.
"It was kind of interesting, and kind of mysterious," Maroon said, adding that he didn't mind having the soldiers training nearby. "I just wish they'd come out and tell us what they're doing."
Staff writer Jim Day can be reached at 886-3794 or by e-mail at Staff writer Mary Lee Grant can be reached at 886-3752 or by e-mail at