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Daytona Beach News-Journal March 24, 2006

Navy bomb exercises rattle nerves

By Patricio G. Balona

GLENWOOD -- The brick house shook, windows rattled and the pet dog ran from room to room unable to find a place to hide.

No. It was not the big bad wolf huffing and puffing.

It was the concussion from Navy bombs exploding at the Navy's Pinecastle Impact Range more than 25 miles away in the Ocala National Forest.

The explosions shook Noel Harris' house and the noise left her 8-year-old Doberman shaking. The noise, she said, was unusually continuous and loud, scaring her pet. She thought her canine would have a heart attack and had to call the veterinarian.

"My dog has a heart condition and I can't give her tranquilizers," Harris said. "It (noise) was so intense. Yesterday was unbelievable. It petrified her and the other animals in the neighborhood."

The range, which is normally used for three or four days at a time for live bomb drops, has experienced increased activity since mid-February due to a full-scale exercise involving the USS Enterprise, said Jacksonville Naval Air Station spokesman Rick Crews. The maneuvers have included bomb runs and practices with aircraft posing as the enemy, Crews said.

"Having it blocked off for a month was certainly an increase from the use that we generally see," Crews said.

Air Force F-16 Falcon jets from the 93rd Fighter Squadron at the Homestead Air Reserve Base also dropped 500-pound bombs through yesterday, Crews said.

"With multiple drops, the bigger the boom," Crews said. "On a cool clear day it seems to travel farther."

According to the Web site http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/pinecastle.htm, the Navy's range in the Ocala National Forest is the only place on the East Coast where the Navy can perform live bomb training.

Nearly 20,000 bombs -- most practice bombs but with a few hundred live ones -- are dropped a year. The Navy has used nearly 6,000 acres of the 382,000-acre forest for target practice for 50 years under a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service, according to the Web site.

During exercises, the military uses a maximum of 500-pound general purpose bombs or the explosive equivalent, ball ammo up to 30mm, rockets up to five-inches thick, and practice bombs. The military also uses MK 80 series bombs, which like some other of the other weapons dropped are inert because they contain no explosive, information on the Web site states.

F-18 jet fighters and other aircraft from the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, as well as other military pilots, fly low over the forest, and drop their bombs in the middle 450 acres of the range.

Targets in the impact area consist of vehicle hulks, arranged to form a "T."

When the bombs start going off so do the phones. Volusia County sheriff's dispatchers get more than 50 calls in a 12-hour shift from concerned citizens when the bombs begin exploding, said spokesman Brandon Haught. They range from questions about what's happening to complaints about the noise, Haught said.

Unlike Volusia, residents of Ocala and Marion County have gotten used to the exercises and do not call law enforcement agencies to complain, said Marion County sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Pogue

"It's just another part of life in Marion County," Pogue said. "Our residents are so used to it."

Copyright 2006, News-Journal Corporation