Do folks in JP know that this happened?
I personally find this extremely alarming and wonder if others do as well.
Plus, it's the height of irony that our society doesn't have enough money to keep this school open and instead use it for military training.
Land chopper on roof
U.S. military commandos practiced raids in the shuttered Agassiz Elementary School last month, including a nighttime helicopter landing on the school’s roof, the Gazette has learned.
The elite special forces training was done without notice to nearby residents. No live ammo or explosives were involved and safety measures were taken, according to military spokesperson Kim Tiscione.
A vaguely worded July 25 press release from the Mayor’s Office announced citywide “military training exercises,” including helicopters, through Aug. 5. In fact, the exercises were top-secret training for the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), whose commandos recently killed terrorist Osama bin Laden, Tiscione told the Gazette.
“I know a lot of it can look really different when it’s in your own back yard,” Tiscione said of the training, which included the two-minute helicopter landing around 9 p.m. on July 28. “Safety is absolutely something we are concerned about.”
“It was really scary,” said resident Sara Wermiel, whose house is just feet from the 12 Child St. school and was bombarded by a “sandstorm” kicked up by the chopper.
“It just seems nuts to me,” said Wermiel. “Don’t they have a site where they could do this where they wouldn’t be alarming people and creating a sandstorm?”
About 30 residents were drawn to the scene by the noise of the helicopter, Tiscione said, adding that Boston Police officers and other safety officers explained what was happening.
Wermiel said the explanation was far from clear, with officers saying that the event was “practice in case there were terrorists at the school.”
Among the astonished residents was Andrew Joslin, who told the Gazette he spotted the unmarked chopper create a “dust storm on the [basketball and tennis] courts full of people” at the South Street Mall before landing on the school’s roof.
Commandos also were inside the school, which Boston Public Schools closed this year.
“We have been training at the school,” Tiscione said, explaining that troops practiced raiding and search techniques. “They need to be able to clear and secure an unfamiliar environment,” she said.
Asked whether the helicopter or troops carried ammo, Tiscione said, “Nope, not at all.” The troops use weapons containing “Simunition,” a mock ammo that is essentially a military-grade paintball, she said.
The overall purpose of training in Boston was to practice urban military operations, Tiscione said. One reason for choosing Boston was that it is not commonly used like some other cities are, so it provides challenges for troops, she said. The citywide training wrapped up Aug. 5, and no further activity was planned for JP, she said.
“We’ve got to be prepared for wherever we go. This is the peak of our training,” she said, adding that the JP training was “absolutely” successful.
USSOCOM did not notify local residents about the training because of its secret nature, Tiscione said. Indeed, she would not even identify what branch of the military she was speaking for until pressed by the Gazette.
“We’re from Special Operations,” Tiscione acknowledged, referring to the umbrella organization of all four military branches’ special forces. “I’m kind of being vague on purpose. It’s more of a challenge for us when people know who we are.”
She said that USSOCOM does not want people recording the training, which is even more of a danger with the special forces’ popularity in the wake of the Bin Laden killing.
“They don’t want to give away any of their secrets,” said Mayor’s Office spokesperson Christopher Loh. He noted that secrecy helps ensure safety by reducing the number of people out watching an operation.
Asked whether the City was concerned about the risks of landing a helicopter without warning in a residential area, Loh said that city officials coordinated safety measures with the military. That included a Boston Police presence.
“I would caution you to make a judgment about safety,” Loh said. “Obviously, this is one of the world’s great fighting forces. They know what they’re doing.”
A Gazette review of international news articles found that, since 2010, there have been at least seven non-combat crashes of U.S. military helicopters. A total of seven troops died in those accidents, at least three of which involved training flights. That includes a training crash just this week in Georgia that killed two special forces aviators.
And in the famous May 1 killing of Bin Laden in Pakistan, one of two helicopters carrying the USSOCOM commandos made a minor crash-landing while entire the raid site, forcing them to abandon the chopper.
A military helicopter was shot down last week in Afghanistan, killing 22 Navy SEAL commandos.
Wermiel said she is concerned about the risk of landing of a chopper on the Agassiz School.
“That’s what they were practice, I guess—landing in a confined space,” she said. “I don’t see why they had to do it here.”
“I just hope it doesn’t happen again,” Wermiel said, adding that there is no way to know due to the secrecy.
Thanks for starting a discussion about this. I too would be freaked out if I saw a military chopper landing on the roof of the building next to me and would conclude we must be under attack or something. Having learned and known that these exercises were taking place, I suppose I would not be as freaked out.
Some questions I invite you and others to join me in pondering?
- If not here then where?
- How could the city have done a better job of getting the word out or calming fears perhaps on site as it was happening?
- Given that this is likely classified as a "Law Enforcement Sensitive" operation, does a balance need to be struck that also considers not "scaring the crap" out of residents?
Glad that we feel the same about this Keith. Here's a little more in the form of a little piece that I wrote for Open Media Boston:
On July 28th in Jamaica Plain, a heavily populated neighborhood of Boston, MA, a surprise military exercise took place involving a helicopter landing and a commando raid. As a resident of JP I cannot begin to express my outrage and shock that this could be thrust upon us. JP is a diverse, cultural, and politically progressive community and this is an affront to our security and dignity. The supreme irony of the event is that it took place at a shuttered school. It shines truth on the simple fact that we live in a society where the military is valued more than education.
The Office of Mayor Thomas Menino completely failed the public good by catering to this madness. What did the decision making process look like at the Mayor's office when this was approved? Did the Mayor's staff consider worst-case scenarios? Did they talk through what a potential helicopter crash would be like in a thickly settled neighborhood of Boston? Did they consider the potential impacts on members of the community who are veterans with PTSD? Are shenanigans like this meant to condition us toward a military presence in our communities?
The vaguely worded press release from the Mayor’s office was insufficient in informing the public in what was happening. However, it is clear that this was meant to be secret, due of course to the highly secret nature personal and tactics involved. So we are now suppose to be OK with the fact that there will be military training in our community.
People should be aware of what these exercises are training for, night raids, which according to the New York Times are taking place at the rate of 300 a month, in Afghanistan alone. Many Americans felt a quick hit of euphoria when a night raid reportedly killed Osama Bin Ladin earlier this year but we should remind ourselves that these night raids are the number one complaint by the Afghan population. They are an affront to civilian privacy, sense of security, and they generally enrage the population. With all the talk of protecting women from the Taliban in our war against terror we should think about the sense of terror felt by Afghan villagers when their “women-folk” are awoken out of bed and by a squad of heavily armed soldiers.
The “Joint federal military training exercises” that took place between July 26th and August 5th in Boston where training for U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). These forces “Core Activities” include “Direct Action”, “Psychological Operations”, and “Unconventional Wa....Fun stuff, especially if you’re familiar with US military tactics under the same headings in places like Southeast Asia or Central America.
Our great nation (which as you know, doesn’t tax the super rich or corporations) is currently engaged in a legislative battle royal over spending priorities. Meanwhile, the estimated price tag for our wars in the Middle East is $4 TRILLION. We close down schools in heavily populated urban areas and use the space for Special Forces raids while our unaccountable elected leaders pander behind close doors with the military industrial complex and use our communities as a commando training site. I find all of this obscene, and I know that there are many people who feel the same.
I have been moved enough to write this simple statement and I hope that it moves you to do a little something as well. We must say no to the continued militarization of our communities and seek better solutions for the local and global problems centered on equality, diversity, democracy, sustainability, and peace.
Brian O'Connell is a resident of Jamaica Plain.