- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 6 (UPI) — A Marine amphibious force shoved off from San Diego early Monday on a six-month deployment that will take the 2,200 Leathernecks into the Persian Gulf region where the threat of war between the United States and Iraq continues to simmer.

There were plenty of tears and visible anxieties at the 32nd Street Naval station in San Diego as family and friends said their farewell to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the crews of the three amphibious ships.

The standard six-month deployment is being termed "routine" by the military.

"We're ready to go," enthused Navy Capt. Jay Bowling, the commander of the flotilla consisting of the landing ships Tarawa, Duluth and Rushmore. "The sailors and Marines are shoving off at 10 o'clock, and we are ready to do what we have to do."

Marine Expeditionary Units are equipped with helicopters, Harrier jets, artillery and armored vehicles, including four M-1A1 heavy tanks.

During its pre-deployment training, the 15th MEU conducted exercises involving urban combat and the evacuation of Americans from overseas trouble spots.

Family members began arriving at the base before dawn, and many considered the pending mission to be anything but routine given the continuing fears that the United States was poised to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein.

"When I found out I had a daughter, I thought, 'Good, I don't have a son that will ever have to go off to war,' and now I have a daughter going off to war," a woman who identified herself only as "Rhonda" told San Diego television station KNSD as she waited to say goodbye to her daughter, Brianna.

Rhonda added that "terror" and "concern" were among the emotions she was feeling as she and Brianna stood on the darkened but bustling pier.

"We have the family ready to send her lots of care packages, and we have a prayer chain going for her," Rhonda said.

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