Marines, Fighter Pilots Heading to Gulf
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) _ About 7,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune and a number of fighter pilots from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base will leave for the Persian Gulf region over the next few days as tension with Iraq continues to grow, officials said Friday.
Three Virginia-based ships capable of carrying more than 3,000 Marines also received orders Friday to deploy, the Navy said.
The USS Ponce and USS Saipan pulled away Friday morning from the Norfolk (Va.) Naval Station. The USS Gunston Hall also received orders. Officials wouldn’t say if they would carry the troops from Camp Lejeune.
The Camp Lejeune Marines will be part of a Carolina Marine Air-Ground Task Force that will include infantry, tanks, amphibious vehicles, supply specialists and aircraft, said base spokesman Sgt. Greg Thomas.
They will follow more than 1,000 other Marines from the base already sent to the Gulf region, including a unit flown out Wednesday whose job is to unload supply ships and inspect equipment aboard five cargo ships normally stationed in the Mediterranean Sea. One ship in the group has a 500-bed hospital and matting to construct an airfield and control tower.
Leaders at Camp Lejeune have been preparing for a large deployment, and several training exercises have been canceled, said base spokesman Col. Keith Oliver.
Marines from the base were sent to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
At Seymour Johnson, also in North Carolina, all 4,500 members of the 4th Fighter Wing are on alert, base spokeswoman Lt. Beverly Mock said, but not all will head to the Gulf immediately. She declined to say how many would leave in the next few days.
Cmdr. Anthony J. Pachuta, commanding officer of the Ponce, also wouldn’t reveal where his ship was going or how long it might be gone. He said he told his sailors seven months ago to be prepared to leave on a moment’s notice because of the ongoing war on terrorism.
``You have to be ready to run the race at any time,″ he said.
A handful of family members watched from the pier Friday morning as the ship prepared to leave port.
James Sandusky of Narrows, Va., said goodbye to his son, Boatswain’s Mate Jason Sandusky, 21.
``Jason has always been a pretty brave boy and I’m proud of what he’s doing for his country,″ he said.
Jason Sandusky hugged his relatives before boarding the Ponce.
``I’m just ready to go,″ he said.
On the Net:
Camp Lejeune: http://www.lejeune.usmc.mil