Military training takes place in front of thousands in Salina

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SALINA, Kan. (KAKE) -

The Smoky Hill Weapons Range in Salina had it's doors open for the public to watch military training Saturday as planes and helicopters flew over head.

According to officials at the range, around 9,000 people showed up to watch. C-130 planes dropped flares, F-16's dropped inert bombs and helicopters flew around the area for them to see. The 50 square mile land is the largest bomb range in the Air National Guard, and people have been able to watch for several years. However, according to a military member on base, it's fun, but still business for those flying.

"It's basically America's war fighters just practicing what they do," said Lt. Col. Robert Campbell. "Increasing their readiness for national security."

According to Campbell, it's about educating the public that comes to watch.

"We enjoy educating them on what it is we do out here," he said. "It builds a better cohesive relationship, we do have a great relationship with the surrounding community."

The range has been around since 1942, starting as an area for training and a prisoner of war camp during WWII. In 1945 it was reassigned as an air to ground gunnery range called Camp Phillips, then it was later transferred to the Air Force and the name became the Smoky Hill Air Force Range. After being transferred among squadrons in the Air Force, in 1979 the Active Guard Reserve. The first to enlist in that program, after being in the Air Force, got to experience flights like those at the range Saturday.

"I've gotten to fly in tankers, cargo planes, F-16's, helicopters, The guards a wonderful thing," said Bruce Loder, retired Air Force and Active Guard Reserve at the range.

Being a part of the program, he's gotten to see the training at the range take place in front of growing crowds over the years.

"We were here when we started doing the first open houses and it was amazing," he said. "We let some of the surrounding little towns know, and we ended up with about 2,000 people even then."

Now, Lt. Col. Campbell said that number has risen by a lot. Going higher than what they expected Saturday.

"I'm fairly certain we tripled, if not quadrupled that," he said.

With planes and helicopters flying over as well as other training that takes place, there is a lot of noise for those that live near the range. However, Loder said he wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

"I live 3 miles from the range and I don't want to retire anywhere else and I'm 69 years old now," he said. "I still love the sound of the planes flying over my head."

The range is set to have training with Special Operations Command the weekend of August 10th, but that is not open to the public. The next open door for the range is not set yet, but Campbell said it will happen again.