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Deputy kills soldier during Green Beret exercise

ROBBINS, North Carolina (CNN) -- A sheriff's deputy mistakenly shot and killed a U.S. soldier and seriously wounded another taking part in a role-playing field training exercise, the Moore County Sheriff's Department said Sunday.

The names of the soldiers, both stationed at Fort Bragg, were being withheld until they families could be notified.

The exercise, dubbed "Robin Sage," was the final stage of the qualification course for the U.S. Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets. The drill is conducted four times a year and stretches over nine North Carolina counties.

The soldiers were on what U.S. Army officials described as a reconnaissance mission Saturday afternoon when Deputy Randall Butler pulled them over in a traffic stop near Robbins. The soldiers were driving in an unmarked vehicle and dressed in civilian clothing, the sheriff's department said.

Butler was unaware the exercise was underway, while the soldiers believed the deputy was part of the training exercise, according to the sheriff's department statement.

"One of the soldiers attempted to disarm the officer, as the other was attempting to get to a military weapon that the soldiers had in their possession," the statement said. "At the time of the incident, the deputy believed that the two individuals intended on killing him, resulting in the deputy shooting both of the suspects."

The Army, which is conducting its own investigation, concurred that Butler likely did not know the exercise was taking place.

"It's clear that it was a breakdown in communications between the deputy sheriff and the soldiers involved," said Maj. Gary Kolb, a spokesman for the army's John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School, which trains Green Berets.

Officials at Fort Bragg said Robin Sage has a 30-year history in central North Carolina and a tradition of involvement with the civilian community. All candidates for the Green Berets must participate in the 38-day exercise, an unconventional warfare scenario set in the fictional country of Pineland.

Local civilians are enlisted in role-playing, as are non-special operations soldiers from the U.S. Army base. All ammunition used in the exercise is blank, Army officials said, adding there was no safety risk to civilians or their property.

Moore County authorities were not scheduled to be part of Saturday's exercise, Kolb said.

"Moore County has never participated in such an exercise and was never told of any such training scenarios," the sheriff's department statement said. "This is a tragic incident ,and our heart-felt prayers go out to the families of all involved."


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