Marine Training

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Look for some traffic problems in the Florida Panhandle next month, when the US Marines storm the beaches as part of a training exercise at and around Eglin Air Force Base.

It will be part of a ten-day training exercise, the first since the Marines left their Puerto Rico training site. Marine officials expect major traffic backups on busy U.S. Highway 98 and, to a lesser degree, on State Road 20 on two of those days. The two roads run parallel to each other.

Last year, the Navy and Marines last year stopped training on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, which they had used for more than 50 years. The move was prompted by protests after an April 1999 bombing accident that killed a civilian security guard.

The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit will begin the exercise in a relatively low-key way on Dec. 8, when Super Stallion helicopters land reconnaissance teams deep inside Eglin's military reservation. The sky also will be filled with Harrier jump jets and Super Cobra helicopter gunships on live-fire missions. The aircraft will be launched from the USS Wasp, a Navy amphibious assault ship in the Gulf of Mexico.

A full-scale invasion by 2200 troops will begin Dec. 12. Marines will come ashore at several sites from Wynnhaven Beach on the west to Choctaw Beach on the east.