Wednesday, June 14 – Troopers Refuse To Release Details Of "Covert" And "High Risk" Helicopter Operation On Monday

If Public Was In Danger, Say Troopers, They'd Let Us Know   As Helicopters Buzzed Overhead On Monday, June 12th...  Troopers Said Their ...

If Public Was In Danger, Say Troopers, They'd Let Us Know 

 As Helicopters Buzzed Overhead On Monday, June 12th... Troopers Said Their "Operational Security" Is More Important Than Public's Need To Know What's Happening 

On the morning of Monday, June 12th 2023, the helicopters began rumbling over the thick black spruce forests of Gakona Junction. What could it be? DNR scouting for forest fires? Military exercises, down from Fort Greely in Delta Junction? 

There was no information on KCAM Radio. The Department of Natural Resources didn't put out a notice of a suspected fire. The Department of Public Safety never mentioned it in its daily state dispatches -- on Monday, or Tuesday, and on into Wednesday. 

People were talking about  the helicopters, though. And they were not happy about the lack of information. Somehow it seemed that helicopters overhead on that large a scale should be acknowledged. 


By Tuesday night, a local rumor narrative had evolved. It went like this: 

Somebody from Gulkana had triggered some type of search. The helicopters had been looking for him -- in the dense wood thickets. But the Troopers hadn't found him (the rumor mill said) – because the guy who they were searching for wasn't here. 

He had gone to Fairbanks. 

This did not boost Alaska State Trooper credibility. Why wasn't anybody saying anything? Why didn't somebody pick up a phone and call around in Gulkana in the first place, for more information before sending out the choppers? 

People were shaking their heads in disbelief. The Troopers, once again, looked foolish. Rumors were no way to find out key public safety information from a state agency charged with protecting the community. 

It was like the incident outside the school last September, when something happened in the school parking lot that was serious enough to trigger a notice to parents from the two school principals. They were offering counseling to the children who witnessed it. Yet the Alaska State Troopers never mentioned that incident in their reports, either. 

People in the Gakona Junction area, where the helicopter search was occurring, were understandably skittish. 

This was the exact area where in the fall of 2020 their neighbor, Mark Heinz, had triggered a heavily-armed manhunt, involving SWAT teams and armored personnel carriers – in which he was said to have terrorized neighbors, hidden in the woods, and even shot at an Alaska State Trooper before being apprehended. 



On Wednesday, June 14th, the Copper River Country Journal contacted the state's Trooper communications office in Anchorage. The Alaska State Troopers didn't reveal any details of the incident when they replied – including where the helicopters were dispatched from, why they were dispatched, who was involved and what had happened. They didn't promise any future information, either. 

Trooper Information Officer John Daugherty wrote the Country Journal that this was a "covert" operation, and lack of information to the public kept the Troopers "safe." 


The Alaska State Troopers Special Emergency Reaction Team was in the Gulkana area on June 12, working on a high risk warrant service operation. The SERT operation concluded, and no arrests were made in this case. If an arrest is made, a release will be posted to the trooper dispatches regarding the incident. We do not announce the covert movements of law enforcement for instances such as these to ensure that the responding Troopers are safe. 


In any situation involving troopers, we must assess public interest for the incident with the operational security of law enforcement working the incident. If there is ever a direct threat to the public, we immediately work to inform the public through all available channels. 


Let me know if you have any additional questions. 


John Dougherty

Information Officer II

Department of Public Safety

It Wasn't Always This Way 

Historical Background From The Country Journal 



At one time -- in the 1980s and 1990s – there was no place in Alaska (perhaps even all of America) where law enforcement worked closer with the general public than the Copper River Valley.

It's not an exaggeration that people here "knew their Troopers." Volunteer EMTs and firefighters worked diligently with Troopers, on a daily basis. 

Trooper sergeants who came to the valley in the 1990s -- most notably Sgt. Greg Tanner and Sgt. Roger Maynard -- enlisted the help of the public all the time. 

Sgt. Tanner devoted a lot of effort to keeping the surrounding  community aware of the problems that Troopers faced. When there were too few Troopers to handle all the various incidents around the region, he wrote to the public, through the Copper River Country Journal and KCAM, describing what was happening. He told people when there were problems in staffing. He asked for their help -- and he got it. Volunteers frequently stepped in to help the Troopers out when needed. 

By the time Greg Tanner passed the baton to Sgt. Roger Maynard, the people in the Copper Valley were all well aware of the need to step up. Although EMS training and fire department training had been a constant throughout the years, the full coordination of all the state and federal agencies, dovetailed into the network of volunteers that had sprung up, was required. 

It was Sgt. Maynard's self-defined  job to start a full fledged "Search & Rescue" program that pulled everybody together. He did that by working closely with volunteers from every single Copper Valley community, organizing them into large, trained groups that could be called at a moment's notice.



In those days, "secrecy" was not part of the Trooper-public interactions of the Copper Valley. Every single Trooper-related incident was reported, and given to the Copper River Country Journal to be published. There was no selective reporting. As a result, the true range of Trooper-related problems was clearly visible, to everyone in the community.

In the winter, you could see that Troopers were dealing with whiteouts causing car crashes and snowmachines getting lost or falling into glacial crevasses. In the summer, they dealt with ATV accidents, drownings, downed airplanes... and all year long they went after speeders, break-ins, domestic violence, car wrecks and drunk driving. 

In many of these cases, local people came out to help, searching for drowning victims with the Troopers; scouting for airplane crashes from the air; looking for their friends and family who had gone out on ATVs or snowmachines and run into trouble. 

It was a different time. If you had a question about what was happening, or how you could help, you called the Trooper office. After an incident was over (and even while it was occurring) Troopers would report to the Copper River Country Journal and KCAM Radio. 

As a result, every Trooper in the region was known by name. And they were all respected.

Today, of course, not everyone knows the names of the Troopers. You can't call them. They aren't allowed to talk to the public. If you have a problem and dial 911 you don't dial the Troopers in Glennallen. You dial a place called "Mat-Com" in Wasilla.



One issue that all Copper Valley people were once aware of  was outsiders' lack of understanding of the communities of the Copper Valley. 

On November 26th, 2021, the one month anniversary of the Alaska State Troopers failing to post a single Copper Valley-related Trooper report that fall, the Copper River Country Journal called local dispatch -- and got Wasilla. 

We asked about how to get more information on the Copper Valley to the public. 

"Our dispatch handles Copper Center," the responder answered. 

No, we were asking about the whole Copper Valley. "Oh, Copper Valley," Wasilla dispatch said. "Where is that located? When you say 'Copper Valley' where exactly are you speaking?" 

The Wasilla office added, "If you haven't received anything, I would assume you have nothing to report on." 

Tim DeSpain, who works in the communications office for the Troopers statewide, explained to the Journal that same day why there wasn't any information about the region. 

He said that there are "certain criteria" that need to be met for a press release. But, just because there are no press releases, doesn't mean local Troopers aren't out there on the roads, he said.  

"Our Troopers in that region are working as hard as they can," Tim DeSpain said. He explained that Troopers  "have long days, and press releases aren't necessarily a priority." 

He added: "We take the public safety of all Alaskans seriously."


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