- 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
- '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 it. 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 startled
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 email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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