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IP: Secret Marine training mission startles residents

From: [email protected]
Subject: IP: Secret Marine training mission startles residents
Date: Mon, 12 Oct 1998 11:12:42 -0500
To: [email protected]

Source:  Greensboro News & Record (N.Carolina)

Secret Marine training mission startles residents


By ANDREA BALL, Staff Writer

Fisher Park resident Helen Ullrich was resting in bed when she heard the
roar of the helicopters. The house shook. The windows rattled.

Her first thought: A plane is going to crash.

Her second: Where's it going to land?

"For the first minute or two, that's what it was like," she said. "Just fear."

Greensboro residents shuddered and gawked at the skies Wednesday night
while nine military helicopters
unexpectedly swarmed above their houses. The aircraft were involved in a
two-hour training mission by the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit at Marine
Corps Base Camp Lejeune, said Capt. Bill Darrenkamp, public affairs officer
for Camp Lejeune.

The helicopters -- a Huey, two Cobras, two Super Stallions and four Sea
Knights -- flew from Onslow Bay to practice long-range raids, Darrenkamp
said. The local training session stretched from about 9:30 to 11:30 p.m.

The Greensboro Police Department agreed to the mission about a month ago,
Darrenkamp said. Nearly 200 families in the Huffine Mill Road area were
told of the training a few hours before it began.

The rest of the city was clueless. And that's the way the Marines wanted
it, said Capt. Sammy Bell of the Greensboro Police Department.

"We couldn't have notified the public on it because if we had, everyone and
their brother would be out there trying
to watch it," Bell said. 

Darrenkamp said the mission was kept quiet because Marines wanted the
training to be as realistic as possible. They also wanted to keep crowds
away from the planes when they landed because they can kick up dirt and
debris, he said. 

The nine helicopters flew from outside Jacksonville to Piedmont Triad
International Airport to refuel. Then they
landed at the old Mt. Zion School on Huffine Mill Road, where 50 to 60
Marines enacted an invasion of enemy
headquarters. They set off smoke grenades, shot blanks with their M-16s and
blew off a door specially installed for the military activity.

But the covert training alarmed people throughout the city. Although the
helicopters were often 400 feet from the
ground, Darrenkamp said they dipped much lower while landing. Some
residents complained that the helicopters barely missed their houses.

"That (height) was cleared, according to the military, by the FAA," said
Capt. David Wray of the Greensboro Police
Department. "We were assured that every safety measure would be taken."

Residents in neighborhoods throughout the city -- including downtown,
Lindley Park, Old Starmount, Forest Oaks and Lake Daniel -- heard or saw
the deafening craft. And then the guessing began.

Was it a crashing plane? An air search for an escaped convict? One of those
medical helicopters?

Brien Deutermanand her husband Bill were watching television in their Old
Starmount home when they heard the helicopters. The couple, seated on their
couch, whipped around to peer out their picture window.

A plane was in trouble, they guessed. They thought of the recent accident
in which a small plane crashed into a home in Winston-Salem.

"It really startled us," Brien Deuterman said. "After what happened in
Winston-Salem a few months ago, that was the first thing that ran through
our minds."

Helen Ullrich rushed outside her home on Isabel Street to find her
pajama-clad neighbors standing in the street,
squinting into the sky at the passing helicopters. Scared children clung to
their parents, while adults slowly
relaxed. Then came the jokes.

The government is scaring us out of our houses to get an accurate census.

If we're in danger, why are we all standing in the middle of the road?

"Once we realized we were out of danger, we were just laughing about it,"
Ullrich said.

Copyright  Greensboro News & Record, Inc.
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