- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) About 7,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune will head to the Persian Gulf in the next few days as tension between the United States and Iraq grows, base officials said yesterday .
Two Virginia-based ships capable of carrying more than 2,600 Marines also received orders yesterday to deploy, the Navy said.
The amphibious dock ship USS Ponce pulled away yesterday morning from the Norfolk Naval Station. Officials wouldn't say if the Ponce and the amphibious assault ship USS Saipan were going to pick up 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 and prepare the tanks, light armored vehicles and artillery pieces.
That equipment, enough for 16,000 troops, is packed into a squadron of five cargo ships normally stationed in the Mediterranean Sea. One ship in the squadron has a 500-bed hospital and matting to construct an airfield and control tower.
Marines from Camp Lejeune were sent to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Leaders at the base have been preparing for a large deployment, and several training exercises have been canceled, said base spokesman Col. Keith Oliver.
Cmdr. Anthony J. Pachuta, commanding officer of the Ponce, wouldn't reveal where the 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 yesterday 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.

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