Eglin Exercise

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Thousands of Navy sailors and Marines are poised to swarm ashore in a training exercise that starts Monday along part of the Gulf of Mexico coast.

It's the first such operation at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida's Panhandle.

For nearly 60 years, the Navy and Marines used Vieques, a tiny island off the coast of Puerto Rico, for pre-deployment bombing and for gunnery and tactics practice. However, training stopped there after an errant bomb killed a security guard in 1999, and the forces left in May.

The Navy moved training to more than a dozen coastal bases, including Eglin. Carrier strike groups are now scheduled to use Eglin ranges two or three times a year.

The training will go over rifle attacks, mortar and artillery launches, offshore Naval gunfire and aircraft bombing runs and ground maneuvers. But officials promise it will be done in "a very safe and orderly fashion."

The exercise ends Dec. 17.