U.S. Army Reserve officials confirmed Tuesday that the armored vehicles seen touring the North and South forks late last week were conducting vehicle training with the 423rd Military Police company based out of an Army Reserve base in Shoreham.
The soldiers were not here to attend military funerals, as had been previously rumored.
The roughly 15-ton unarmed M1117 Armored Security Vehicles, designed to provide security for convoys and areas on the battlefield, were seen on the South Fork last Thursday and driving through Riverhead and Southold on Friday. The vehicles were also spotted on the roads again Sunday night and Tuesday afternoon, according to eyewitnesses who reported the sightings to the News-Review.
Eyewitnesses also described seeing a submarine off Orient Point on Friday at the same time the vehicles were driving through Mattituck. But Coast Guard officials at the New London station in Connecticut said a U.S. submarine sailed through the area that morning to be resupplied. The submarine docked at the Naval Base in New London about 9:30 a.m. and left the base about an hour later.
The Army vehicles, combined with the spotting of the submarine, sparked wild rumors across the area — and on the Internet — that the region was under attack. But the timing of the sub’s arrival and the ASV training was purely coincidental, officials said.
“It’s a frequent thing for them to come in for supplies,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Jeff Murphy said in a phone interview. “That’s a very normal occurrence to have happen.”
The Army Reserve vehicles have been on local roads previously for training but only in groups of one or two, said Master Sgt. Diane Caserta. Last week marked the first time the vehicles were sent in groups of four on longer trips to Montauk and Orient Point, she said.
“These are highly unusual vehicles,” Master Sgt. Caserta said. “They’re not tanks but they’re very large. [The vehicles are] a supplement and a more physical presence than our Humvees. They give us a higher profile. I guess unfamiliarity makes people say ‘I wonder what that is.’ ”
The goal is to put 1,000 miles on each of the new vehicles in case the 423rd MP were to be called into action, officials said. Driving the vehicles helps keep their engines clean, and provides training for the MPs so their skills remain sharp.
Master Sgt. Caserta said servicemen have been stationed in the vehicles’ turrets while they are on the road to make sure the ASVs, which have large blind spots, are being driven safely.
Sgt. Cornelius Ivory of the 200th Military Police Command, which oversees the 423rd Military Police company, insisted that local and state authorities had been notified of the operations months in advance, and that the Army Reserve had received confirmation from these departments before the recent exercises, as per normal procedure.
But local police departments said they were unaware of the planned activities, and officials with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office said they could not remember ever being notified of such movements. Congressman Tim Bishop’s office, which also had trouble answering to alarmed constituents, said the lack of clarity about the operations must be avoided in the future.
“Our military neighbors need the flexibility to conduct training exercises in our area, but routine training should never be a cause for confusion or alarm as we saw last week,” Mr. Bishop said. “My office will continue to conduct outreach to all military units in eastern Long Island to ensure that, wherever possible, the public receives advanced notice when military vehicles are going to operate in our communities.”
Previous reports from News12 stated the vehicles were in the area for a military funeral, but this was refuted by military officials, who said the vehicles would never be used for a funeral ceremony. The M1117s are also not amphibious, as had been previously reported. There will be additional training exercises in the future, according to Army Reserve officials in Shoreham.