For nearly two weeks, an air of danger loomed at several covert locations in Broward County, as an elite U.S. military group trained for "urban environment" missions overseas.
Some of the members of the Naval Special Warfare Command’s development group used exploding devices. Others were armed with simulated ammunition at a closed park with paid civilians acting as innocent bystanders, and others were in low-flying combat helicopters.
"The training is not in preparation to conduct a specific, real-world, contingency plan" in the area, Special Operations Command spokesman Kenneth McGraw said in an e-mail Monday afternoon.
The "realistic urban" routine training "scenarios" are planned all over the country at unfamiliar locations, McGraw said.
This is not the first time "urban warfare" special operations’ training scares onlookers in South Florida. On 2011, helicopters startled many high-rise building residents in Brickell's financial district.
This year, Fort Lauderdale police officers and Broward Sheriff's Office deputies helped coordinate the training's different stages. And although details were confidential, there were some signs of their activities on social media.
"We had so far 15 black helicopters flying over Coral Springs heading in a northern direction," Edward Keckeis posted on YouTube Tuesday. On Monday, John Okane posted a video on YouTube showing helicopters flying near downtown Fort Lauderdale.
"The globe is becoming more and more urban," said Naval War College professor Rick Norton. This means "that the complicated and demanding terrain of a city will be more and more likely to also be future battlegrounds."
Military strategists developed urban warfare techniques when violence in the mountains began to take root in the streets in places like the Balkans, Manila, Mogadishu and now in Afghanistan.
ELITE TEAMS AND SECRECY
With about 2,400 active-duty SEALs in 2013, the special forces are divided into 10 teams. Only men are allowed. The Pentagon may allow women to join the elite special operations forces in 2016 if they meet the same physical and mental standards as men.
"Special forces are trained to “operate in small groups and have the ability to quickly deploy from Navy ships, submarines and aircraft, overseas bases, and forward-based units,” said a 2013 congressional report.
During the failed Extortion 17 mission in Afghanistan, the Taliban targeted a Boeing Ch-47 Chinook helicopter. The Aug. 6, 2011 incident had the most known U.S. military deaths in a single day in the war on terrorism. And how the Taliban were able to get or plant information that lead to the failed mission remains a mystery to the families of the 38 fallen U.S. service men who died that day.
Among the information classified as secret on the Broward County special operations training was the financial cost. But records show the Department of Defense made the trainings a budgetary priority in 2012 and 2013.
THE NAVY SEAL LIFESTYLE
During their South Florida stay in March, participants and trainers used their free time to go fishing, practice their golf swing and enjoy the nightlife. After a completion ceremony Friday, most of them returned to a base in Virginia Beach Saturday.
Their next enemy is unknown. And their next stop is uncertain. On Monday, the White House confirmed special forces were sent to Uganda to help combat Joseph Kony's army and were expected to arrive there this week.