GROWED UP WRONG
WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has ordered the Navy to prepare two aircraft carriers and two amphibious assault vessels for possible action in Iraq, defense officials said Friday.
The orders, sent in the last two days, require the Navy to have the vessels ready to sail to the seas around Iraq within 96 hours after a certain date, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. They declined to specify that date.
The ships and the escorts of cruisers, destroyers and submarines, would bring a powerful military force to the region, adding several warships, scores of strike aircraft and roughly 2,500 Marines to the forces in the region.
If the order to sail is given, the USS George Washington battle group would be sent from the Atlantic fleets, officials said. The George Washington returned from the region on Dec. 20 and is best prepared for action.
The USS George Washington is one of two aircraft carriers ordered to prepare for possible action against Iraq.
Either the USS Abraham Lincoln or the USS Kitty Hawk battle group would be sent from the Pacific fleets. The Abraham Lincoln is in Perth, Australia, having just left the Persian Gulf region. The Kitty Hawk is in port in Japan.
The defense officials declined to say which amphibious assault groups are most likely to be sent to conduct operations in Iraq. Those groups center on a large, carrier-like vessel that can launch helicopters and carry Marines.
Already in the region is the carrier USS Constellation and the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau, officials said.
In addition, the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort is expected to put to sea from its port in Baltimore next week and prepare for action, military officials said Friday. It will be headed to Diego Garcia, a British island in the Indian Ocean where the United States bases numerous military aircraft.
The 1,000-bed floating hospital will initially sail with a crew of 61 civilian mariners and 225 Navy personnel, including enough doctors to support two operating rooms, said Marge Holtz, spokeswoman for the Navy's Military Sealift Command. Hundreds more will be flown to the ship as needed, she said.
The white-painted vessel, marked with red crosses, is equipped to handle combat casualties, including those injured in chemical or biological weapons attacks, Holtz said.
It may leave as early as Monday, Holtz said.
The ship was last deployed during the summer for exercises with U.S. allies in the Baltic Sea.
In the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Comfort sailed to the waters around Manhattan to treat people injured in the collapse of the towers. In the end, those services were not needed, as local hospitals were able to handle the survivors.
The vessel instead served as a floating hotel for rescue personnel working at the World Trade Center site, providing meals, beds and laundry service for more than 2,200 rescue workers.
The Comfort, a converted oil tanker, is only one of two hospital ships of its size. Its sister ship, the USNS Mercy, is based in San Diego.