Robin Sage Military Exercise Begins Saturday
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
Spring this year will be heralded by the sound of gunfire.
It is coming from military weapons that will ring out across Moore and 14 other North Carolina counties. It's not real, only blanks fired in a training exercise for student soldiers undergoing the final exercise of Special Forces training before putting on their green berets.
The exercise begins Saturday.
"Residents may hear blank gunfire and see occasional flares, neither of which poses any risk to persons or property," the Army said through a news release. "Residents who encounter a problem should contact local law enforcement officials, who will immediately contact exercise control officials."
This is the last part of the 251st Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC). It is a role-playing training game called Robin Sage, in which Special Forces students infiltrate the fictional country of Pineland, situated in or near Alamance, Anson, Cabarrus, Chatham, Davidson, Guilford, Hoke, Montgomery, Moore, Randolph, Richmond, Rowan, Scotland, Stanly and Union counties.
The exercise, conducted by the 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne), is scheduled to end April 9.
To add realism to the exercise, civilian volunteers throughout the areas involved act as role-players during the training. Some pretend to be Pinelanders working with Green Beret A-teams to carry out varying simulated missions. Others play roles as collaborators with OPFOR, the oppressing force that has invaded Pineland from the north.
"Robin Sage is designed to provide realistic training in unconventional warfare tactics and techniques," the Army said. "It is the final training exercise before SFQC students graduate and receive their assignments to one of the Army's seven operational Special Forces groups."
While some operations mean student soldiers might be wearing civilian clothes, they will still have identifying badges and cards on them and any vehicles used during the training scenario. That is because two students soldiers were shot, one fatally, by a Moore County deputy who mistook the situation, as did the soldiers. They thought he was acting as a role-player, while he thought he was about to be shot by armed and dangerous men.
The incident, which happened in February 2003, was ruled a tragic accident as a result of that misunderstanding, but a later federal lawsuit against the deputy and the county was settled out of court with payments to the wounded soldier and the estate of the soldier who died.
The settlement took place after a jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, but before any judgment was entered. The deputy sued the Army, and that case is still pending.
Since then, the Army has worked with sheriff's departments and local police departments to make sure no such misunderstandings happen again. Role-players know that any law enforcement personnel working with the Army will be clearly identified. Officers of the law in areas involved are to be fully briefed.
The following safety measures have been implemented:
n Formal written notification is given to the chiefs of law enforcement agencies in the affected counties, with follow-up visits by unit representatives.
n All civilian and nonstudent military participants are briefed on procedures to follow if there is contact with law enforcement officials.
n Students will only wear civilian clothes if the tactical situation warrants as determined by the instructors, and students will wear a distinctive armband. Personnel role-playing as Pineland law enforcement officers wear distinctive hats and armbands.
"Robin Sage has been conducted for nearly 50 years with the help of civilian authorities and the citizens of central North Carolina," the Army said. "Participation by these volunteers is crucial to the success of Special Forces training, and past trainees attest to the value the volunteers add to the exercise. As with all training activities, safety is always the No. 1 priority."
The exercise involves the support of some 200 service members from units across Fort Bragg who play roles themselves. These military members provide realistic opposing forces and also play guerrilla freedom fighters in a Pineland resistance movement, the Army news release said.
"These military members play a critical role in the training the SF students encounter in the country of Pineland," the Army said. "Exercise officials appreciate the help and consideration the citizens of North Carolina extend to the soldiers participating in the exercise and ask for their continued understanding of any inconveniences the training may cause."
Anyone with questions about the exercise can call the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School Public Affairs Office at (910) 396-9394 or by e-mail at pao_ email@example.com.
Contact John Chappell by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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