- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

EL PASO, Texas, Jan. 3 (UPI) — An additional 300 to 400 of the Army's Patriot air defense troops will leave Fort Bliss in the next few weeks for the Persian Gulf area, officials said Friday.

Patriot missile launchers, trucks and other gear were loaded on rail cars Thursday and shipped to an undisclosed U.S. port, Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said. Another shipment is scheduled to leave by rail next week from the West Texas Army post.

The troops are from the 108th and the 35th Air Defense Artillery brigades, two of five missile brigades based at Fort Bliss. The first Fort Bliss troops in the latest military buildup left just before Thanksgiving.

Air defense crews from Fort Bliss have been on rotation to the Persian Gulf since the 1991 war. Nearly 1,000 soldiers are already there.

Offutt said the departing troops were pleased they could spend the holidays with their families.

"They are very positive and upbeat," she said. "They're glad they were able to spend the holidays at home and they're ready to do what they need to do."

Offutt said about 800 to 900 members of the national guard and reserves are going through orientation and training at Fort Bliss for active duty assignments. They come from units based in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California.

The U.S. military buildup is a response to the failure of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to provide evidence that he has eliminated weapons of mass destruction as required by the United Nations.

The Army's Patriot missile crews would defend U.S. and allied forces, airfields and supplies in Kuwait against attacks by Iraqi Scud missiles.

The Patriot Advance Capability missile launchers are a more modern version of the weaponry used in the 1991 Gulf War to intercept Scud missiles. Each launcher can fire 16 surface-to-air missiles in contrast to the old units that fired only four.

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