- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 14 (UPI) — Preparations for the largest military deployment in San Diego since the 1991 Gulf War continued at a rapid pace Tuesday as around 7,000 Marines and sailors said hurried goodbyes and loaded their equipment and supplies aboard a seven-ship amphibious task force.

The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force is scheduled to set sail Friday and expects to be in the Persian Gulf by early next month, and the leathernecks and their anxious families are being told to brace for battle against the Iraqi military.

"We feel it could be very dangerous, but to think otherwise would not be giving the best training to these Marines and sailors," Marine Lt. Col. Fred Padilla, commander of a battalion poised to set sail, told reporters Monday night during a briefing session for Marines and their families at Camp Pendleton.

"It's difficult to see him leaving for a place where he is going to be shot at," an unidentified Pendleton wife told Los Angeles station KCBS. "Talking to other spouses and people who have been through it, and my family, helps."

Camp Pendleton units make up a sizable portion of the Marine contingent already in the Gulf region, and the base was virtually emptied during the Gulf War, leaving reservists to man posts and merchants in nearby Oceanside to deal with a dramatic downturn in business.

The deployment of the 1st MEF would be the largest single movement of Pendleton troops since 1991 when a similar task force was expected to launch an amphibious assault on Kuwait or the Iraqi coast. The landing was never made as U.S.-led forces took an overland route and made quick work of the Iraqi military.

The latest deployment will be led by the amphibious assault ships Boxer and Bon Homme Richard and include the transport vessels Comstock, Cleveland, Pearl Harbor, Anchorage and Dubuque.

Another 2,200-man Pendleton unit, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, shipped out from San Diego last week aboard three transport ships, and the San Diego-based carrier Constellation and its battle group is currently in the Gulf region.

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

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