Definitely check out this piece by Jon Elliston in the Asheville Mountain XPress. The U.S. Army, it seems, has been using civilian areas of cities for secret urban warfare training at night, one recent example being a stealthy assault on Buncombe County Jail in Asheville, N.C.

While local officials have to agree to the exercises and some nearby businesses are warned ahead of time, local residents and the public at large are left in the dark about such maneuvers, with the results you might expect. Jon details how nighttime training in Charlotte in 1997 caused a flood of panicky 911 calls. During similar 1999 exercises in Kingsville, Texas, the army managed to set a vacant police station on fire, and damaged some empty Exxon offices. In Miami a training bullet was shot through the window of an all-night restaurant, and in New Orleans one training exercise caused $100,000 of damage to private property.

Citing such incidents, some city officials, including former San Antonio Mayor Howard Peak, have said no to the Army and blocked or cancelled urban warfare training in their towns. But the military's need for training grounds, like its need for expensive weapons systems and bases in foreign countries, appears insatiable, and there's a long list of towns like Asheville willing to host these dangerous affairs. Unfortunately, the secrecy of such exercises makes it difficult even to find out they're happening -- until the helicopters start swarming over your local courthouse one night.

(Jon Elliston, by the way, was also the co-author of the Spring 2003 cover story in Southern Exposure, on the wave of spousal murders at Fort Bragg, N.C., by returning veterans of the Afghanistan war.)