Two giant inflatable boats roared toward the Tampa Convention Center, and 14 members of special operations forces jumped ashore, engaging the "enemy" in a loud firefight and freeing the "hostage" — Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
Standing on the Harbour Island bridge, 10-year-old Brooke Volpi thought the loud rat-a-tat of blanks was real. But she wasn't scared.
"I knew I was safe because the Army doesn't shoot at innocent people," she said.
Brooke and several of her friends went to the Special Operations Forces mock assault after a half-day at school Wednesday, joining thousands of onlookers who saw what forces from 12 countries can do with military helicopters, boats and Humvees.
The exercise was part of the Special Operations Forces conference this week.
Ten-year-old Samantha Caglianone loved watching four special ops demonstrators rappel from a MH-47 Chinook into the water — and later climb back on, using a rope ladder.
"It looks kind of easy when they do it," she said.
And it did — because of their training, said a U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Dan, who declined to give his last name.
He was one of the men who rappelled into Seddon Channel near the convention center. Joined by forces from Norway and Australia, the sergeant said working with military personnel from other countries was a great exercise, considering their different training backgrounds and languages.
"And doing this for the public is a very powerful thing," he said, "because it tells our common enemies if they mess with one of us, they mess with all of us."
The demonstration started with the entrance of a CV-22 Osprey, which can switch between front-facing airplane propellers to ones meant for a helicopter. It ended with a free fall from 6,000 feet.
In between, demonstrators rappelled from a Black Hawk helicopter onto a platform in the channel, engaging an "enemy" with fake gunfire. They carried out a mock ground assault using Humvees and all-terrain vehicles.
And though the demonstrators probably couldn't hear over the roar of propellers, the crowd cheered each time "the good guys" took off safely.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.