Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
DES MOINES, Iowa – Following publicized reports that the Army National Guard was planning a military training exercise on the streets of a rural Iowa town, the commanding officers have called off the mock “invasion.”
The Guard had planned a four-day urban military operation in tiny Arcadia, Iowa, population 443, sending troops to take over the town and search door-to-door for a suspected weapons dealer.
The exercise was designed as a mock scenario to give soldiers the skills needed for deployment in an urban environment, and military officials stressed that only households that consented to be part of the drill would be searched.
“It will be important for us to gain the trust and confidence of the residents of Arcadia,” Sgt. Mike Kots, readiness NCO for Alpha Company, told Carroll’s Daily Times Herald. “We will need to identify individuals that are willing to assist us in training by allowing us to search their homes and vehicles and to participate in role-playing.
“We really want to get as much information out there as possible,” Kots continued, “because this operation could be pretty intrusive to the people of Arcadia.”
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood, however, told WND that the operation has now been “scaled back” and no longer involves an “invasion” of Arcadia.
And while Hapgood confirmed the Guard had been inundated with objections from citizens concerned about soldiers patrolling the streets of an American town, he said most came from people out of state and unfamiliar with the operation. Iowans, he explained, typically cooperate with the Guard. The change in plans was based on troop evaluation, he said, not public outcry.
“Higher headquarters leadership,” Hapgood told WND, “given the unit’s status of training proficiency, made a decision to scale back the exercise.”
Kots described the original operation to the Herald as set to begin on Thursday, April 2, with reconnaissance and exploratory patrols. On April 4 convoys were to be deployed from the armory in Carroll to nearby Arcadia, where soldiers would knock on doors, showing a picture of the invented “arms dealer.”
“Once credible intelligence has been gathered,” said Kots, “portions of the town will be road-blocked and more in-depth searches of homes and vehicles will be conducted in accordance with the residents’ wishes.
“One of the techniques we use in today’s political environment is cordon and knock,” Kots explained. “We ask for the head of the household, get permission to search, then have them open doors and cupboards. The homeowner maintains control. We peer over their shoulder, and the soldier uses the homeowner’s body language and position to protect him.”
The planned drill had also included overhead supervision from a Blackhawk helicopter, crowd-control measures and simulated extraction of “injured” people, culminating in capture of the “arms dealer.”
“This exercise will improve the real-life operational skills of the unit,” said Kots. “And it will hopefully improve the public’s understanding of military operations.”
“There are no active duty bases in Iowa, so there are no urban warfare training areas of any size,” Hopgood said. “In order to get that larger neighborhood feel or city feel, we have to be creative and partner with our communities.”
Hopgood further told WND that in past cooperative exercises with the community, the people of Iowa have welcomed learning how their sons and daughters operate in action.
Plans for the urban operation training, Hopgood explained, are still set to continue, but will be conducted in a smaller, platoon-by-platoon basis in the near vicinity of the Carroll armory.