The noise and shaking that surprised at least some residents of a Mary Esther neighborhood were the result of explosives training by the 823rd RED HORSE Squadron at Hurlburt Field.
MARY ESTHER — Heli Bassham is no stranger to the occasional noise issues that come with living in a military community. She’s lived in the same house in Mary Esther, a couple of miles west of Hurlburt Field, for 34 years. And before that, in the 1970s, she lived in Shalimar, in the shadow of Eglin Air Force Base.
But on Tuesday, she experienced noise like nothing she’s ever heard, or felt, before, she said.
"Today was the worst," she said in a late Tuesday afternoon telephone call. "I thought the house was exploding."
Five times during the afternoon, she said -- three times in rapid succession, and later, twice in rapid succession — what she initially believed were sonic booms from passing jets rolled across her neighborhood.
Four times, according to Basham, "the whole house shook," at one point knocking a couple of pictures off a hallway wall.
"It’s kind of amazing that more stuff didn’t fall down," she said. "It seemed like an earthquake. ... I was holding on to my little grandbaby."
And, Bassham said, a neighbor — who corroborated Bassham’s story Wednesday at Bassham’s home — told her the water in the lake behind their houses actually "jumped up."
Initially on Tuesday, Bassham called the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office to report the noise and shaking. The Sheriff’s Office provided her with a number of telephone contacts for Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field, which she quickly began dialing.
By late Tuesday afternoon, Bassham was in touch with the community engagement office at Hurlburt Field.
Early Wednesday morning, she learned from that office that the noise and shaking were not sonic booms, but were the result of demolition training by the 823rd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers (823rd RED HORSE) at Hurlburt Field.
On Wednesday afternoon, Air Force Lt. Steven Bodovinitz, officer in charge of media relations for the 1st Special Operations Wing’s Public Affiars Office, repeated the information passed along earlier in the day to Bassham.
Bodovinitz told the Daily News in an email that 823rd RED HORSE members "were conducting proficiency training at approximately 12 p.m. on Feb. 18, 2020. RED HORSE uses the Explosive Ordnance Disposal proficiency range regularly to maintain their proficiency to deploy."
Bodovinitz went on to say that, as Bassham had reported, "RED HORSE conducted five blasts, with each detonation totaling between 80 and 98 lbs. in weight."
"As with all range activity, safety is paramount," the email continued. "Each detonation was in accordance with range safety regulations."
And while the detonations were routine for Hurlburt Field personnel, Bodovinitiz said, it’s understandable that they weren’t necessarily routine for nearby residents.
"We appreciate the perspective," Bodovinitz said of Bassham’s inquiry.
And, he added, anyone with concerns about noise or other issues impacting the community around Hurlburt Field can click on the "Contact Us" tab on the Hurlburt Field website, hurlburt.af.mil, then click on "Community Engagement," where there will be a link to a noise complaint and resolution form that can be emailed to Hurlburt Field at firstname.lastname@example.org. Complaints should get a response from Hurlburt Field within three business days, according to the website.
"Hurlburt Field leadership values the incredible relationship that has been built over the years with our fellow northwest Floridians," Bodovinitz’s email noted. "When our members aren’t down range executing the mission, they too call the Emerald Coast their home. Accordingly, officials at Hurlburt track noise complaints closely and do their best to mitigate any disturbances to our neighbors."
Like Hurlburt Field, Eglin AFB acknowledges that noise can sometimes be an issue for area residents, and the base maintains a couple of telephone numbers for reporting noise complaints.
The numbers, readily available under the "Noise Complaints" tab under the "Quick Links" section on the base’s website at eglin.af.mil, are (850) 882-3915 or (850) 882-2779 during business hours, Monday through Friday.