My FOI request this morning dislodged the agreement by which the city of Little Rock (actually Mayor Mark Stodola) permitted an Army Special Operations group to perform an unannounced training exercise over downtown Little Rock Friday night that alarmed many residents in the Governor’s Mansion and other neighborhoods.
The exercise focused on the former VA hospital, now privately owned by an evangelist, on Roosevelt Road and commercial property a short distance to the southeast across Interstate 30 — some vacant land used for helicopter landing owned by Moon Distributors’ Stan Hastings. They Army made arrangements to use the properties. Neighbors said the operation was noisy and lengthy and extended from late Friday to early morning hours Saturday. An agreement between the Army and city reveals the size of the operation:
The exercise will consist of 7-9 rotary wing aircraft, 2-3 fixed wing airframes and 80-100 Special Operation ground force personnel conducting full mission profile training as previously coordinated. Rotary wing aircraft will INFIL ground forces via fast rope and air land infiltration and will EXFIL ground forces via vertical hoist extraction and air land EXFIL in victing of “Moon Distributors.” Ground Force personnel will conduct force on force simmunition training as well as mechanical and explosive breaching on the target facility in accordance with previously conducted coordination and distributed guidance.
Here’s the full agreement. A key point in light of neighbors’ complaints and the mayor’s brief response when questioned by a neighborhood group: The agreement provided for public notice of the exercise, including press releases “to all appropriate Little Rock officials for dissemination,” and specified that public affairs officers would be on the ground to handle any questions that should arise.
Little Rock Police Lt. Terry Hastings said police knew about the exercise, but said the portion of the agreement referring to public notice and door-to-door notification was understood by the city to be the military’s obligation, not the city’s. (He later supplied some e-mails that reflect this.) The agreement, however, specified “that Little Rock, AK [sic] public affairs officials publish official notification and door-to-door notifications of appropriate personnel through the desired media on a time-line deemed necessary by the mayor’s office and city officials. This coordination will comply with the guidance disseminated to local officials throught he 160th SOAR(A) Public Affairs Office.”
Maj. Mike Burns, public affairs officer for the 160th, said that such training exercises, which are conducted around the country, present a Catch 22. Too much advance knowledge can attract spectators that can add to the risk of the operations. He said the decision not to announce the exercise in advance was made cooperatively with the city, but he said it was ultimately the city’s decision because the Department of Defense didn’t have the authority to make announcement for the police or through the city website. “Bottom line, it comes down to what the police and city want to do,” he said.
OK, it’s agreed. Notice should have been given in neighborhood. I heard from Mayor Stodola late in the afternoon:
Public notice and fliers were supposed to be distributed door to door. I was assured that this would happen when I was briefed about this exercise on September 7th as I expressed the same concern that you and others have expressed. I had no further contact with the military as they were to work with our LRPD. Apparently someone dropped the ball.