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Air Force holds massive training event at Castle

Military officers roamed the streets at the decommissioned Castle Air Force Base on Thursday and stunning KC-135 cargo planes glided off the runway into the skies.

For a moment, the scene resembled the bustling military base so many Merced County residents have etched in their memory.

"People have pulled us aside and told us they retired from Castle,” U.S. Air Force Col. Gregory E. Schwab said. "They were reliving memories with us downtown."

The U.S. Air Force is holding a week-long training session called Operation Hydra for the second year in a row at Castle Airport.

It's the largest West Coast training exercise that includes cargo planes and is expected to continue as an annual event, said Schwab, commander of the 615th Contingency Operations Support Group.

He estimates that close to 1,000 people are involved with the operations and that nearly 500 airmen and soldiers were together at the base earlier in the week.

Besides stirring memories of the days when Castle was still active, the influx of military personnel is a boon for the local economy, with dozens of cars rented and more than 300 hotel room reserved.

The operation is dubbed Hydra, a nine-headed serpent in Greek mythology, because of the different military divisions that take part, such as the Army and Marines.

Air exercises began Monday will conclude Friday. The military will leave the base by Sunday.