Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

National Guard Seeks to Double Size of its Largest Training Site

The National Guard is proposing to more than double its Camp Grayling training site in Michigan. The super polluter seeks to deepen its ties with private contractors and develop tools of surveillance and punishment.

Joe Garofalo

January 24, 2023
Facebook Twitter Share
Image by dvidshub.net

Nestled near the headwaters of the Au Sable River in Northern Lower Michigan, in lands forcibly taken from the Odawa and Ojibwa, the Michigan Army National Guard (MIANG) currently operates the largest National Guard training site in the country, Camp Grayling. At 230 square miles, it could fit Detroit (139 sq. miles), Lansing (37 sq. miles), and Grand Rapids (45 sq. miles) safely within its footprint. In addition to the Army and National Guard, the area is used by police departments, prisons, private military contractors, and foreign military units. 

In January of 2022, the National Guard proposed expanding its Land Use Agreement with the state by a staggering 250 square miles, bringing its size to 490 square miles, or about twice the size of Chicago. This is happening at the same time the Air National Guard is seeking separately to expand operations over Northern Michigan and Lake Huron, likely in concert with the proposed expansion of Camp Grayling. 

MIANG claims that the additional area is required to conduct training in space, cyber, and electronic warfare. According to Col. Scott Meyers, the camp’s commander, these distances are essential to simulate what troops will encounter on the battlefield and to keep activities at the base separated. Officials have repeatedly claimed the activities will be “low impact,” and that there will only be intermittent closures to the public.

But this ignores the already well-documented failure of the National Guard to live up to its own purported standards. 

Environmental Concerns

PFAS contamination at Camp Grayling was first discovered by the military in 2016, though the chemical had been in use for decades on the base as a fire and dust suppressant. PFAS, sometimes described as a “forever chemical” due to the extremely long time it takes for the chemical to break down in the environment, is linked to various health issues such as cancers, high cholesterol, and developmental problems in children. It is particularly worrisome because it can dissolve in water, making it very difficult to remove once an area has been contaminated. 

In 2019, the wells of 1,100 local residents were tested, and 300 came back positive for PFAS. The military only paid for 18 of these homes to have their water rerouted to the municipal supply, while the remaining 282 homes receive tap water filters occasionally from the health department. 

Local residents have reported feeling abandoned, with some reporting visible foam and chemical build up on bodies of water near their homes. There is real fear among locals that this may echo the Air Force’s refusal to take responsibility for PFAS contamination caused by their activities around Wurtsmith Air Base in Oscoda, just 70 miles east. 

Even bureaucrats within the state are speaking out. District Supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s (EGLE) Remediation and Redevelopment Division in Gaylord, in a December 22 letter to the acting PFAS program manager for the Army National Guard’s Cleanup and Restoration Branch, wrote that DNR officials should reject the expansion of Camp Grayling due to the Guard’s “inability to take timely action to investigate, mitigate, and remediate significant areas of contamination at Camp Grayling.” When asked about this, Col. Meyers called the PFAS issues and the Land Use Agreement “two completely separate issues.” He claims the Guard no longer uses “any of those chemicals” and that PFAS wouldn’t be used on the base moving forward. Although it was reported as recently as July that EGLE sent a violation notice to the Guard for allegedly discharging stormwater contaminated with PFOS (a particular type of PFAS chemical) into a lake. 

Currently, the U.S. military is one of the most egregious polluters ever to have existed on the planet. Since 2001, the military has produced over 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gasses and accounts for over 80 percent of the federal government’s fuel consumption. If we set aside the issue of PFAS/PFOS entirely, you are still left with the pollution from the operation and maintenance of all of the equipment and machinery, including planes and helicopters, the destruction and clearing of natural areas, and the disruption of both animal and resident populations with noise from flyovers, gunfire, and artillery. 

Not to mention that although the Guard has agreed to keep a 1,500-foot buffer from bodies of water like lakes and rivers, this crucially does not include delicate wetlands, on which much of Camp Grayling already sits. This means that the local water system is still under very severe threat from spillage of other chemicals, metals, or jet fuel. 

Expansion of Surveillance and Control 

Camp Grayling, in addition to being a military training center, is a hub for police departments, foreign militaries, and private contractors. In 2020, the National All-Domain War-Fighting Center (NADWC) was established by the Michigan National Guard. It encompasses Camp Grayling, the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, and the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base. The goal of the NADWC is essentially to make National Guard installations attractive places for private contractors or the Department of Defense to test new technologies. 

In an article in DBusiness magazine, Col. Meyers was quoted as saying “Ever since we unveiled NADWC, my phone has been ringing off the hook with private industry trying to get into this space. And the advantage is that we have a lot of availability and a lot of land for folks to come out here and play.”

The proposed expansion would allow for increased use and testing of new technologies, particularly those dubbed as Electronic Warfare (EW). These include surveillance tools developed by private companies like Palantir, which are also sold as “off the shelf” solutions for law enforcement, DHS, or corporate customers. It has been reported that access to NADWC facilities and expertise costs as little as $147 per day, making this a very cost effective choice for those within the military industrial complex.

Camp Grayling also houses the Northern Michigan Law Enforcement Training Group, which touts 75 law enforcement agencies from the region amongst its members. They have a permanent training center on the grounds of Camp Grayling complete with a 2.25 km2 mock town, where police get trained on using tactical firearms and urban assault techniques. 

These technologies have become commonplace domestically for dealing with protests and general unrest. One of the authors of the zine “The Base Among The Jack Pine” aptly described the situation: 

During the 2020 George Floyd Uprising, state law enforcement, various federal agencies, and the National Guard frequently used EW tactics to control crowds, surveil protestors, and assist in counterinsurgency operations. The LRAD that many state forces used frequently in an attempt to exact compliance, through pain, from rowdy crowds are a Direct Energy Weapon. Stingrays and dirtboxes that snooped on people’s electronic data, ripping identifying and sometimes incriminating information, are an EMS surveillance tactic. EW exercises conducted at Camp Grayling will undoubtedly play a role in advances in AI and machine learning capabilities that will make these already sinister tactics faster, more accurate, and more effective.

The military has repeatedly done nothing but obfuscate its many failures, and avoid responsibility, and has made only the most minor efforts at remediation when compelled to do so. They have shown contempt for local residents, and have given no reason to believe that things may be different in the future. 

An expansion of Camp Grayling is an expansion of the apparatus that cages, surveils, and punishes us. It exemplifies the ever creeping nature of the surveillance state and its various appendages. Quietly, with the patina of legitimacy afforded by “public comment periods” and all of the other bureaucratic licensing, credentialing, and “transparency,” we are all encouraged to welcome the testing and development of equipment that will inevitably find its ways onto our streets and into our neighborhoods, developed by people who are at best apathetic to the destruction of the natural world around us. But if you’re one of the lucky ones, you might get a free water filter for all the trouble. 

Facebook Twitter Share

Guest Posts

Xenophobia on the Rise in Russia  

After the deadly attack on a music hall in Moscow, racism against non-Russian people is growing. This has a long history in Russia. 

Alina Tatarova

April 5, 2024
A group of protesters gather in front of the University of Michigan. Some are holding Palestinian flags

University of Michigan Proposes a Harsh Policy Curtailing Freedom of Speech and Protest on Campus

A new policy proposal targeting activists, protestors, and union organizers is cause for concern, but might help groups engaged in a range of struggles find a common enemy.

Ryan McCarty

March 30, 2024

Lord Balfour Was an Imperialist Warmonger 

We should give our full solidarity to the Palestine Action comrade who defaced a portrait of Arthur Balfour at Cambridge University. But the problem for everyone who opposes the genocide against Gaza is how to massify and politically equip the movement.

Daniel Nath

March 21, 2024

“Poor Things” Floats Like a Butterfly and Stings Like a Butterfly

Poor Things is a fantastical comedy with beautiful set design and costumes and an Oscar-winning performance from Emma Stone. So why did it leave me feeling so empty? Despite juggling feminist and socialist ideas, the film is ideologically muddled and often self-contradictory.

Basil Rozlaban

March 16, 2024

MOST RECENT

“We Shouldn’t Let this Stop Us”: Suspended Columbia Student Activist Speaks Out

Aidan Parisi, a student at Columbia University’s School of Social Work, was recently suspended and has been threatened with eviction from their graduate student housing for pro-Palestinian activism on campus. Aidan talked to Left Voice about the state of repression, the movement at Columbia, and the path forward for uniting the student movement with the labor movement and other movements against oppression.

Left Voice

April 11, 2024

Fired by a German University for Solidarity with Palestine — Interview with Nancy Fraser

The University of Cologne canceled a guest professorship with the philosophy professor from The New School. In this interview, she speaks about Germany dividing between "Good Jews" and "Bad Jews," her politicization in the civil rights movement, and her time in an Israeli kibbutz.

Nathaniel Flakin

April 10, 2024

Pro-Palestine Activists in France Get Summons from Anti-Terrorist Police

As part of a repressive campaign against the movement for Palestine in France activists have gotten summons from “anti-terrorist” police. The movement for Palestine in the United States must oppose all repression of our movement here and in Europe.

Samuel Karlin

April 9, 2024

The Movement for Palestine Needs Independent, Working-Class Politics

As the brutal genocide of Palestinians continues with the help of the Biden administration, there is maneuver underway to co-opt the movement for Palestine. We need to have a democratic and independent movement that relies on the power of the working class, the student movement, and mobilizations in the streets.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

April 7, 2024