The training was real. The location was fictitious.

Residents living near or around the Kinston Regional Jetport inside the N.C. Global Transpark may have heard an inordinate amount of the “sounds of freedom” emanating from the airspace above Stallings Field Friday evening or perhaps saw unusual activity in the natural areas surrounding the enormous 11,500-foot runway for several days last week.

Kinston was not being “cased” for an eminent invasion. But a make-believe-region called “Amberland” — with similarities almost exact to the Lenoir County’s largest town — was the target of the Camp Lejeune-based Marines. The Navy has taken the map of the United States from east of the Mississippi and removed state names and boundaries and replaced it with arbitrary borders and a set of least a dozen fictitious names coined after minerals, resins and natural deposits.

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted a “Realistic Urban Training” (RUT) exercise at Kinston Regional Jetport Friday evening.

“The RUT is part of a pre-deployment training program that is designed to test and evaluate the MEU's ability to plan and execute a variety of missions from combat operations to humanitarian aid,” said 1st Lt. Marco A. Valenzuela II MEF Public Affairs Officer. Valenzuela said Marines “use off-base facilities” such as Kinston’s Jetport because it “forces units to train in a new and unfamiliar environment that mimics what they might encounter while deployed.”

Plans for Friday’s exercise began in 2016 when staff from the Expeditionary Operations Training Group ll Marine Expeditionary Force began searching for suitable off-base locations to use to train troops during their work-up to deployments overseas. Initially, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service had plans to do a mock raid at Kinston’s airport but because of its unique features and close proximity to Camp Lejeune it was decided to use it for a Marine Corps drill. That drill was Aug. 25.

Ronald A. Jones, director of MAGTF Live Exercises, who was on hand Friday evening leading a presentation which would outline the night’s maneuvers to a small gathering of local citizens including Lenoir County Commissioner J. Mac Daughety, said Kinston was chosen for its “layout and geometry.” Planners also liked Kinston’s proximity to Camp Lejeune from where the 50 or so Marines used in the exercise embarked and New River Air Base from which the Tilt-rotor and rotor aircraft departed.

“We need a raid site with contiguous green space,” Jones said.

Prior to Friday’s simulated raid in which two CH-53 Super Stallions landed on the airport’s tarmac where two contingents of Marines wearing night-vision goggles breached buildings on either side of the passenger terminal and gathered intelligence material and insurgents, scenario planners embedded Marine snipers and observers in natural areas surrounding the airfield on Aug. 23 while young Marines acting as role-playing passengers relaxing inside an airport terminal created an air of real-life activity inside the waiting areas. Intelligence gathered by the observers was channeled back to command and used to fine tune the Friday raid. Close by residents were also informed about the exercise weeks in advance and as nightfall arrived Friday evening officers with the Lenoir County Sheriff’s Office manned entrance points to the airport.

“We had a couple of deputies out there but we didn’t have any incidents. Everything went smoothly,” said LCSO Maj. Ryan Dawson.

To keep the scenarios fresh and challenging to Marines in training, the need arises to move off base from where many “troops know every bump in the road or which doorway to enter after training in the same areas,” Jones said. While he travels the country he picks up marketing collateral from local businesses than uses them as props.

“We place collateral material around the airport such as Chinese restaurant menus from out-of-state or business cards from flight schools,” Jones said. These pieces of evidence when collected by the raiding party are then brought back to build a bigger picture by developing a broader picture allowing troops to begin connecting the dots on insurgents their training to eliminate.

Marines will be back at Kinston Jetport — tentatively scheduled on Oct. 17 — for a mass casualty event, according to Jones.

“Kinston has offered the world and didn’t take anything back,” Jones said. Both Jones and Barkes said the U.S. Department of Defense reimburses the State of North Carolina for expenses incurred in the use of the Kinston facility but neither one knew the dollar amount budgeted for the exercise.

N.C. Global Transpark Airport Director Rick W. Barkes said “we try to accommodate as best we can. We can take large fixed wing aircraft and rotorcraft as well."

Barkes said even planes from the Presidential fleet based at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C. uses Kinston’s runways — the longest runways in the state — for take offs and landings of the Boeing 747.

The few local residents who were hand when the troops landed were impressed though visibility was limited and most of the troop action occurred out of sight yet a few explosions detonated to breach a doorway were audible to those standing outside what used to be the departing terminal gate.

“Being a former Vietnam Veteran, you love to see the logistics of the military executed. Anything we can do to help the military, we‘re here as is Onslow and Craven counties. It’s all regional. We have to remember, our two biggest employers are military and agriculture so we’re blessed in eastern North Carolina that we got both,” Daughety said.

The youngest observer in the terminal Friday night was seven-year-old Keegan Wilson who was brought to the event by his father Lance, on works at the Global Transpark, and his mother, Talitha.

“I thought I was going to be a little scared but I wanted to see it,” Keegan said.

Jones gave Keegan an EOTG shirt for his fearlessness.

The practice raid began at 9 p.m. and concluded an hour later.

Reporter Mike McHugh can be reached at 910-219-8455 or email at