Pendleton’s Version of Big Bang Theory : Military: Blasts from maneuvers may be a joyful noise to Marines, but some residents envision a cataclysm of biblical proportions.


The fighter jet jockeys are bombing again at Camp Pendleton, where the daily and nightly BA - BOOM S have been loud enough to mangle nerves, terrorize the local tea cups, and prompt scores of fidgety civilians to call police.

“Those are the sounds of freedom they’re hearing out there,” 1st Lt. Kevin Bentley, a spokesman for the Marine Corps base, said with contentment Thursday.

What police dispatchers are hearing, however, are people from some surrounding communities who aren’t sure whether the explosions are a cataclysm of biblical proportions or a passing cement truck.


“I worked till 7:30 last night and it felt like we had a couple hundred calls by then,” said Escondido police dispatcher Lynn Zimmerman. “One person said, ‘Should I take cover?’ Another woman said she thought her windows were going to break.”

Aerial bombardment and artillery barrages on Camp Pendleton’s ranges are part of the ambience of North County, where long-time residents have generally mellowed to the military music of 155-millimeter howitzers and 81-millimeter mortars. After all, the Marines have been here since 1942.

Occasionally, though, like this week, the symphony’s brass section goes fortissimo, and so does the number of complaints.

Since Monday, twin-engine F/A-18 Hornet attack jets from the El Toro Marine Air Station in Orange County have been dropping 500-pound bombs to practice close air support for Marine infantrymen.

The jets had loosed 58 heavy bombs by Thursday, and Master Sgt. John Farrell said, “We don’t have any idea how many more they’re going to drop, but it will go through Saturday.”

This week, weather conditions have helped carry the booms a greater distance, and some residents from San Clemente to San Diego have been jolted by seemingly having Beirut in their back yards.

“If you’re brand new to the area, that’s a helluva wake-up call,” Sheriff’s Sgt. Glenn Revell said.

Unsuspecting newcomers are quickest to call police, City Hall or military officials to find out why the crazed dog suddenly jumped in their laps. Most callers are curious, others are irate.

“The windows rattle and the bones shake,” said Oceanside spokesman Larry Bauman. “We do get calls, especially from new residents who are unused to bombardment and think it’s an earthquake or a large truck.”

During the latest bombing runs, calls to local police and Camp Pendleton have come from Carlsbad, Oceanside, Vista and Escondido. During other artillery or bombing practices, inquiries also come from San Clemente, Fallbrook and Temecula.

“Depending on atmospheric conditions, you can hear up to 50 miles away,” Farrell said.

Because of terrain and the angle of bombardment, the noise can be louder in some communities than others.

But for every resident ready to swan dive under the bed are others who don’t think the bombing is any more frightening than the temperamental old grandfather clock.

Take Bailey Noble of Carlsbad, who lives near railroad tracks and a municipal airport. Add to that the fact that Noble is a retired Marine, and here is a man who doesn’t fuss over a mere bomb.

“I’ve seen the windows shake a couple times, but I haven’t heard anything,” said Noble, who adds, “I have a fairly significant hearing loss” due to exposure to artillery while in the service.

His neighbors are also reasonably tranquil when Camp Pendleton seems to be going ballistic.

“The only comments I hear are ‘well, the Marines were at it again last night,’ ” Noble said.

The recent weather helps explain the spate of calls to some local police departments.

“Sound travels faster and farther in moist air,” said Wilbur Shigehara, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Sometimes, he believes he hears Camp Pendleton’s activities as far away as his office in downtown San Diego. “It’s been going on for many years, this mysterious rumble. Our windows rattle at times,” Shigehara said.

Since the military hasn’t found a way to make bombs go squeak, it’s inevitable that local residents will continue to get rattled from time to time.

Camp Pendleton spokesman Bentley said anyone who suffers property damage from the explosions should contact the base and ask for a form seeking reimbursement.