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 Another Mock US Army Assault -
 This Time In Corpus Christy

Feb 19, 1999
By Novelda Sommers And James A Suydam
Staff Writers © 1999 Corpus Christi Caller Times
A Scripps Howard newspaper. Allrights reserved.

 
       Army Special Forces troops took the Old Nueces County Courthouse by storm Wednesday night in a mock-hostage rescue of  an ambassador from one of the jail cells. The crack of gunfire and the low, loud boom of grenade explosions could be heard across the city. "All of a sudden, we saw cops blocking the streets and we heard gunshots," said Conrad DeLaPaz, 19, who pulled his minivan over and parked to watch the maneuvers. DeLaPaz said he was at first frightened by what appeared to be an assault on the city.

The exercise by the Army Special Operations Command from Fort Bragg was the last in a series performed in the Corpus Christi area, Police Chief Pete Alvarez said.

"It was really a neat exercise, something we'll probably never see again in Corpus Christi," Alvarez said. The soldiers' mission was to rescue an ambassador being held hostage by enemy forces, Alvarez said. In the process, they set up snipers outside the building whose mission was to kill guards, allowing soldiers access. The sharp crack of gunfire seemed to signal the beginning of the exercise. An instant later, several black helicopters without lights landed and dropped off soldiers. The soldiers used grenades and explosives to blow open doors, Alvarez said. A helicopter also landed on the Mann Building. The soldiers had to take out more than 60 bad guys - some real men,  some plywood cutouts -in and around the courthouse before extracting the ambassador from the jail cell. They reached the hostage in about 10 minutes and finished the operation in about 25 minutes, he said.
 
'An awesome display'
 
Mayor Loyd Neal, City Councilmen Ed Martin and John Longoria and City Councilwoman Melody Cooper witnessed the exercises from the driveway of Fire Station No. 1, just across the street from  the courthouse. "It was an awesome display; those helicopter pilots were fantastic," said Neal, a former Airborne Ranger with 30 years of military service. One helicopter hovered inches above a crane at the worksite for the new federal courthouse, dropping off two snipers.

The helicopter came back later in the exercise to pluck the men from the top of the crane. Two of the choppers landed on the roof of the courthouse. The others landed around the courthouse square. A large Blackhawk helicopter then settled in just to the north of the courthouse. "The pilot of that Blackhawk had more than 5,000 hours of flight time in that helicopters," said Neal, who had been briefed about the drill by Sam Joseph, an operations leader from Fort Bragg. "I've never seen anything as precise as what that  guy was able to do under those conditions in the dark like that."
 
Smooth exercises
 
Joseph said the urban warfare training exercise in Corpus Christi was one of the smoothest ever. "The cooperation from guys like your police chief was just fantastic," he said. "We really appreciate   He's a hell of a guy." On Tuesday, Army representatives briefed the council on the operations and addressed concerns about citizen safety related to the exercises. During the exercises, helicopters have been seen swooping low over residential areas in Annaville, Kingsville and Port Aransas. The soldiers, wearing black face masks and night-vision goggles, use explosives and sometimes fire live rounds during the exercises, the soldiers said.

In Kingsville on Feb. 8, explosions and rifle fire led nearby residents, and the attack caused a fire that gutted an abandoned police building and blew  windows out of another building nearby. Army officials have said that 50 to 60 soldiers were involved with the two-week exercise. The Army Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg had received permission from the city for the exercises. The unit has encountered problems in other cities where the times and locations of the operations were widely known, Joseph has said. In one case, he said, 200 people crowded onto the roof of an abandoned factory to watch the operation, threatening to collapse the roof and slowing the unit's vehicles. Dusty Durrill, owner of the company that owns the old courthouse, said he was approached by Army officials about six months ago. Durrill said he didn't receive any compensation for the exercise, but that Army officials agreed to pay for any damage.
 
Traffic disrupted
 
Traffic was shut off on the I-37 overpass going toward Portland from 7:45 to 8 p.m. and again from 8:20 to 8:30 p.m. Traffic leaving Portland could enter Corpus Christi. The Harbor Bridge walkway   also was closed. "We've had 10 times worse traffic jams during a major car accident," said Lt. Ken Ersland of the Corpus Christi Police Department. "Closing off the highway caused a minimal amount of inconvenience to the residents." Army officials asked for road closures so the helicopters wouldn't distract motorists or send debris onto cars, Ersland said. "The whole thing went off like clockwork, and I'm a Marine and I don't usually praise the Army," he said.
 
       ______________
 
       Staff writer Stephanie L. Jordan contributed to this report. Staff writers Novelda Sommers and James A. Suydam can be reached at 886-3683 or by e-mail at sommersn@caller.com or      suydamj@caller.com
 

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