April 10, 2015
In August of 2014, military helicopters flew low over residential neighborhoods of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, engaged in a series of night-time training exercises. The exercises involved the Naval Warfare Development Group - a "special forces" component of the U.S. Navy - and were aimed at enhancing urban combat tactics.
Just as they had two years earlier, military personnel had come to the Twin Cities to conduct counter-terrorism training operations in an urban environment. And just as before, those operations commenced with little advance notice to the public.
Follow-up to 2012 exercise
Records obtained from the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) by Public Record Media (PRM) indicate that, in many ways, the 2014 training was built upon foundations laid two years earlier. Correspondence between the U.S. Navy and the MPD involved many of the same figures who participated in the 2012 operation - most centrally, those tasked to the Minneapolis SWAT unit.
An April, 2014 e-mail from MPD's Jonathan Kingsbury to SWAT Commander Robert Skoro references the upcoming military exercise, and notes that "it is very similar to the August 2012 event." Kingsbury also states that the operation "has been briefed and approved by the Mayor's office … and is being hosted by the SWAT officers of the Minneapolis Police Department."
As referenced by Kingsbury, the 2014 exercises had been solicited by the U.S. military via a letterdelivered to Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges. The letter requested the Mayor's support for "low-intensity urban tactical training" by special forces personnel who are "constantly refining tactics to learn how to most effectively engage the enemy while ensuring the safety of non-combatants."
As with the 2012 exercises, it appears that plans were made to provide cross-training exercises for Minneapolis police officers. "Hopefully," Kingsbury's states in his e-mail, "we will have the opportunity to get some of our folks into the game like we did last time."
Throughout the MPD documents, repeated references are made to the Navy's desire to keep the profile of the event as discreet as possible. A January, 2014 e-mail from MPD Deputy Chief Edie Frizell characterizes the training mission in just those terms. "This is a highly respected and security sensitive effort," Frizell writes. "The training was conducted in 2012 in Minneapolis with little or no fanfare - that is the way they want it."
Frizell's message states that strict security protocols extended even to the Navy's initial, written solicitation. Frizell recounts that the Navy's letter was hand delivered, and that face-to-face planning conversations were required "because of the sensitivity of the training."
The Navy's letter to Mayor Hodges expands on the security concerns surrounding the exercise, and explicitly requests that advance notice of the event be limited. "Due to the sensitivities of this training," the letter states, "we respectfully request that any information pertaining to this training be excluded from automatic public release."
Documents written seven months later - just prior to the the training itself - indicate that the Navy's wishes appear to have been adhered to by the MPD. An e-mail from Jonathan Kingsbury to Robert Skoro notes that a memo on the exercise had been disseminated to precinct commanders, but that it did not contain "much info."
Messages traded among MPD personnel indicate that police were directly involved in portions of the Navy operation, and also provided perimeter security at the various training sites.
The presence of low-flying, black helicopters was the most obvious sign to the public that military training was underway, but records show that Naval exercises had already been occurring a week previous to this. Naval forces had commenced ground operations on August 11th, independent of aerial support. Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft arrived on August 17th, and the "full mission profile" of combined air-ground operations ran from August 18 to 21.
A closing ceremony for the exercises was held at the Air National Guard museum on August 21st, just prior to the commencement of the final exercise. An unidentified federal official notified MPD personnel that the event was a closed ceremony, but that "DOD specifically invited all of you to attend." Chief Harteau's administrative assistant replied that her schedule was not open at that time, but that the Chief "sent her best."