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Marine Copter Exercise Sends Scared Residents to Their Phones

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Droning helicopters kept hundreds of Oxnard residents awake Tuesday night as a detachment of Marines from Camp Pendleton practiced urban navigation training over a quiet residential neighborhood.

Simulating a terrorist situation, six Marine Corps helicopters hovered and swooped in the vicinity of the Ventura Freeway and Rose Avenue from about 9 to 10:30 p.m., frightening and angering nearby residents.

“It was loud. They weren’t very far from my house,” Oxnard resident Janet Heistad said. “You could hear this ‘glob-glob-glob, glob-glob-glob.’ It was irritating, to say the least.” The noise startled residents, many of whom came out of their homes to investigate the unusual scene. Cathy Vaughn and her three young children, who live on Yale Court in the Rio Lindo neighborhood, watched the helicopters from their back yard.

“They were right above our heads,” Vaughn said. “I was thinking that somebody broke out of jail or something. It scared me.”

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The nighttime maneuvers were part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary’s Unit’s 180-day training mission, which is being carried out at various sites along the West Coast, Sgt. Doug Anderson said.

The Marines will be training in Ventura County, mostly in Port Hueneme, until Friday, but will not be conducting helicopter maneuvers over residential areas again, Anderson said.

The Oxnard area was selected for navigation training because it represented a typical urban neighborhood, Anderson said. The Marines needed a populated location to carry out a training exercise simulating a terrorist situation.

“The scenario that we had was that there were terrorists in the community . . . and the United States Marines are called upon to go in and alleviate the situation,” Anderson said.

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The two-hour maneuver featured six helicopters--including AH-1 Cobras and UH-1 Hueys and a small Marine unit on foot in the Oxnard area.

The noisy helicopters, which were also heard in Ventura, triggered more than 100 phone calls to the Oxnard Police Department from concerned residents, police said. Ventura police officials said they received no complaints, however.

Anderson said he received “quite a few” calls Tuesday night, as police referred residents to the Marines. “Let’s put it this way: I got my first phone call at 9:15, and the phone rang continuously until 11 p.m.”

Heistad and Vaughn were among the callers and were frustrated that the police were not forthcoming about the military exercise.

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“They wouldn’t tell me it was the Marines,” Heistad said. “They wouldn’t tell me anything.

“I called later and got Marines who told me it was some sort of training exercise that they were doing and that they couldn’t do it during the daytime.”

The Marines did not notify residents beforehand because it would have created a safety risk, Anderson said.

“If we announced that this was going to be happening, we would have had a lot of spectators,” he said. “And that would have been detrimental to the training mission.”

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