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Mpls. City Council Member Demands Answers about Military Helicopter Training

Updated: 09/05/2014 7:25 AM
Created: 09/04/2014 7:17 PM KSTP.com
By: Stephen Tellier

A Minneapolis city council member is demanding answers, asking why the council was kept in the dark regarding recent military helicopter training exercises conducted in the skies over downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul a few weeks ago.

The training went on for four nights in both downtowns, scaring and angering more than a few neighbors. The helicopters came without warning, and under cover of darkness.

"There were a lot of black choppers running around the city. It was like an action movie. Nobody knew what was going on," said Marcus Naramore, who lives in downtown Minneapolis.

Several military helicopters spent hours slicing and dicing their way through the Minneapolis and St. Paul skylines.

The training exercises raised questions from all corners. That now includes the Minneapolis city council.

"I think the one question that came out of it was, 'Why didn't we know?'" said Minneapolis council member Blong Yang, the chair of the public safety committee.

He said he's called every official in his phone book, and no one seems to know much of anything about what happened - or why.

"We're at a point where we have a lot of questions, and we don't have any answers," Yang said. "I want to know who gave the authorization to do that. Because certainly, it didn't come from the council."

"What we're doing is actually a very important part of military operations, national security," said Maj. Allen Hill with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the so-called "Night Stalkers" which orchestrated the training.

He said the regiment typically doesn't give advance notice because it can turn training into a spectacle and a safety hazard, by drawing crowds to watch the training, and causing local police forces to deal with crowd control.

"The more information we provide, we run the risk of security concerns, operations security, the security and the risk of our pilots, our crews," Hill said.

But he said he understands Yang's concerns, and wants to find some middle ground to make sure elected officials are in the loop.

"I've made the suggestion based on the Minneapolis training that maybe we could sit there and look at town hall meetings, invite the city council members to other areas of training," Hill said.

Some downtown residents just want a discussion before Black Hawks descend on their neighborhood.

"I think it's always a good idea to bring issues like this to where the public can discuss them," Naramore said.

Regardless of what happened last month, Yang said he wants to make sure in the future, the city council has a say in authorizing such military training.

The public safety committee will discuss the issue at its next meeting on Wednesday.


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