The thwacka-thwaka thrum of military helicopters on a training exercise drowned out the buzz of cicadas on the south side of Bloomington on Monday night.
According to the Monroe County sheriff’s office, a similar scenario will unfold on Tuesday night in Richland and Bean Blossom townships.
According to the Bloomington mayor’s office, Monday night’s training operation was conducted by the US Army. It’s one of the facts about the commotion that the city of Bloomington was able to confirm.
Based on social media reports, the geographic focus of the military training exercise was 1730 S. Walnut, the former location of the Night Moves strip club, and the adjoining Switchyard Park.
The mayor’s office confirmed to The B Square that those two locations were included in the operation, but could not say if other places in the city were also included.
The 1730 S. Walnut property was in the news last week, when Bloomington’s city council approved a tax abatement in connection with a residential project to be built there, called Retreat at the Switchyard. It’s planned to include 48 apartments designated as affordable under HUD guidelines.
The property is owned by Bloomington’s redevelopment commission, but it is due to be conveyed to Real America, the project developer, as part of a $1 real estate deal.
Based on social media reports, helicopters landed at the 1730 S. Walnut property.
About a half mile away from there, a resident of a neighborhood east of Switchyard Park told The Square Beacon that his house shook when a low-flying helicopter flew over. Alex Chambers said a second helicopter passed over his house shortly after that—too short a time for it to have been the same copter circling around, he thinks.
Chambers also told The Square Beacon that he heard maybe three explosions during the night, from about 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
A flyer distributed on Monday in some of the surrounding areas indicated that “loud bangs and simulated gunfire” would be some of the sounds people would hear in connection with the training. It’s not clear how wide the flyer’s distribution was.
The flyer also stated that “The Bloomington Police Department is aware and will be present during the training.” According to the mayor’s office, “We assigned no officers to this training last night. Only off-duty law enforcement personnel could have been utilized. Any BPD personnel were paid by the federal government.”
Responding to criticism on social media platforms about the lack of notification to the public, the city of Bloomington’s Twitter account tweeted: “The military requested that broad public notification not be issued in order not to compromise the safety/security of the exercise.”
The mayor’s office acknowledged its advance awareness of the training exercise, by tweeting, “The Office of the Mayor was aware of Monday night’s national security exercise and was notified ahead of time.”
According to the mayor’s office, city councilmembers were not notified about Tuesday night’s training exercise.
The Facebook page for Monroe County’ s sheriff announced around 5 p.m. on Tuesday that military training exercises would be taking place later Tuesday night in the townships of Richland and Bean Blossom.
It’s not clear if the city of Bloomington had any choice in the matter of making city property available to the US Army for its training exercise. Responding to a question on that topic, the mayor’s office stated, “This was not a City training exercise, and the City cannot accurately characterize the required permissions.”
In response to another question along similar lines, the mayor’s office stated, “The City cannot prohibit the federal government from conducting a training exercise.”
According to the mayor’s office there is a history of such training exercises in Bloomington, but did not elaborate.
Included in the mayor’s office responses to 12 out of the 20 questions submitted by The Square Beacon early Tuesday morning, was the sentence: “We recommend that you redirect this question to the agency that conducted last night’s training.”
Late Tuesday, The Square Beacon was able to reach a public relations officer at the Pentagon, who directed the request to a different officer. A response to questions from the US Army could come on Wednesday or sometime later.
Among the outstanding questions that The Square Beacon is hoping to get answered are:
- How many and what types of aircraft were involved?
- How many members of the military were involved in the training exercise?
- Where is the home base for the members of the military who were involved in the training exercise?
- What was the goal of the training exercise?
- Does the US military have to ask permission of the city of Bloomington to conduct such a training exercise, or is it more like a notification that the military is exercising its right to train?
- When was the request/notification to the city of Bloomington about the training exercise made?
- In how broad an area (e.g. how many residences/businesses were flyered) were the flyers distributed?