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Fort Bragg's 'unconventional' war games to go as planned despite coronavirus fears

Special Forces candidates assigned to the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School lead mules across a stream as part of a long-distance movement during the final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina, June 7, 2020.

K. KASSENS/U.S. ARMY

By MARK PRICE | The Charlotte Observer | Published: September 10, 2020

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — COVID-19 fears are not stopping the U.S. Army from staging cryptic war games across multiple North Carolina counties from Sept. 11 to Sept. 18.

Called Robin Sage, the sprawling mock war is considered “the U.S. military’s premiere unconventional warfare exercise” and is known for participants’ commitment to being realistic, according to a release from Fort Bragg.

This includes having students from the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School “placed in an environment of political instability characterized by armed conflict.” More seasoned soldiers out of Fort Bragg will play the role of “guerrilla freedom fighters” for a fictitious country called Pineland, officials said.

Fort Bragg is warning that people across 15 counties in the state may see and hear things that are alarming in the coming week — but there is no reason to worry.

“Residents may hear blank gunfire and see occasional flares. Controls are in place to ensure there is no risk to persons or property,” the Special Warfare Center and School said in a release.

“For those in the local communities who have been quarantined at home, the introduction of a large number of people into the community may be disconcerting, but there is no need to worry. The U.S. Army Special Warfare Center and School has also been following strict quarantine procedures and the soldiers who will come.”

Robin Sage is the final test for students seeking Special Forces Qualification, the warfare center says. The exercise has earned a reputation for being secretive because times, locations and type of activities are not revealed to the public.

Participants often dress in civilian clothes, but wear “a distinctive brown armband” to identify them as soldiers, the center says.

The exercises have been staged in various forms for 60 years, but advance notice became more critical after a soldier was killed and another was wounded in 2002. The shootings involved a Moore County deputy who mistook the soldiers for criminals and fired at them, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Due to the pandemic, all participants in the exercises “have undergone health screenings at multiple points throughout the training pipeline to insure that no soldiers have COVID-19,” the center said in a release.

Counties included within the exercise zone are: Alamance, Anson, Cabarrus, Chatham, Cumberland, Davidson, Davie, Guilford, Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, Randolph, Richmond, Robeson, Rowan, Scotland, Stanly, Union and Wake.

However, in some cases, activities could be restricted to just use of roads by “clearly labeled” military vehicles, rather than staged fighting, officials said.

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