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Navy training exercises rattle windows in Ocala and beyond

By JOE CALLAHAN | The Ocala Star-Banner | Published: February 2, 2019

OCALA, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — A series of loud explosions rocked the Ocala National Forest again on Thursday, prompting concerned residents to reach out to news outlets and the U.S. Navy.

Kaylee LaRocque, a spokeswoman for the Naval Air Station Jacksonville, confirmed that the rumbling explosions, heard from Salt Springs to Micanopy, were part of a planned military exercise.

"I had 20 voice mails when I got in this morning," LaRocque said early Friday, referring to complaints of noise.

The U.S. Navy often practices bombing runs at the Pinecastle Range Complex, often referred to as the Pinecastle bombing range, in the Ocala National Forest.

"We have lived out here for many years and have heard the bombing runs, but this was different," said Fort McCoy resident Gail Carter in a telephone interview early Friday. "They must have been using bigger bombs or missed the target and got a little closer than normal."

Carter said in a Thursday night email to the Star-Banner that "just after 6 p.m. we heard a rumble and our house shook."

"It happened several more times," Carter wrote. "Neighbors ran out of their homes. There was silence between events. We have experienced bombing runs before at Pinecastle but never heard planes and never felt our homes shake! Friends in Eureka also felt it."

LaRocque said the current training operation is in support of aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), and embarked Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12 staff, which recently departed from Naval Station Norfolk to begin a Composite Training Unit Exercise, known as COMPTUEX.

"COMPTUEX is a training evolution designed to integrate all the assets of the strike group, test their ability to carry out maritime operations, and assess deployability," according to a U.S. Navy press release.

LaRocque said the strike group is evaluated on their performance during simulated surface and sub-surface threats, and ship movements they may encounter in hostile waters.

The Spanish navy frigate ESPS Méndez Núñez (F 104) also will participate in the exercises to improve the war-fighting capabilities and partnership between the two NATO countries.

Navy training schedules indicate carrier-based jet fighters and other types of aircraft will be conducting training through Feb. 28.

"Residents in neighborhoods surrounding NAS Jacksonville may notice an increase in aircraft activity and noise during this training period," a press release states.

During bombing periods, wildlife may be temporarily displaced. The release urges residents to use extra caution when driving through the Ocala National Forest and surrounding areas.

"Secure any items around your residence that could attract wildlife. Always be mindful of larger animals including black bears, which could be moving through populated areas away from the bombing," the release notes.

The telephone number for noise complaints is 1-800-874-5059.

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