Local News

National Guard, Marines Get Deployment Orders

Posted January 17, 2003 12:33 p.m. EST

— Camp Lejeune officials said about 7,000 more Marines will be added to a group of the same size already on its way to the Persian Gulf region as the United States builds a force against Iraq.

In addition, the North Carolina National Guard said Friday that about 328 soldiers and 24 helicopters will leave their Morrisville hangar next week for active duty of at least a year.

The 1st Battalion of the 130th Aviation Regiment is the first combat unit of the state National Guard activated since the Sept. 11 attacks. The battalion plans a farewell ceremony Sunday morning and will leave for another post next week for training.

Other combat support units from the National Guard have been activated, said Guard spokesman Capt. Robert Carver. The total number of state guard troops activated since Sept. 11 is about 2,400.

Aviators in the unit fly AH-64A Apache attack helicopters. The unit was mobilized in February 1991 during the Gulf War, but the conflict ended before the battalion could get overseas. In 1998, it was sent to Kuwait to serve in Operation Southern Watch to help patrol the United Nations no-fly zone over southern Iraq.

Apache helicopters are the primary attack choppers in the Army, carry a pilot and a gunner and are armed with a 30 mm cannon, rockets and Hellfire missiles.

At Camp Lejeune, convoys of military vehicles began traveling Thursday to the state port in Wilmington as about 3,000 Marines with the 2nd Marine Division and 4,000 from the 2nd Force Service Support Group prepared to leave. The trips to the port were expected to last for several days.

Staff Sgt. Jay Connolly, a base spokesman, would not say when the deployment would take place or specifically where the final destination would be.

Tanks, amphibious assault vehicles and light armored vehicles, as well as engineers and infantrymen will pull into the state port in the next five days, Connolly said.

More than 80 vehicles - primarily light armored vehicles and Humvees - were escorted by Wilmington police officers and State Highway patrolmen to Shipyard Boulevard.

The orders Thursday came a day after a force of 7,000 Marines and 5,000 sailors embarked ships for the Persian Gulf region in the largest deployment from Camp Lejeune since the Gulf War.

Some 60,000 U.S. troops are already in the Gulf region and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has signed orders for an additional 67,000 to go over the next few weeks. The size of the U.S. force arrayed against Iraq could reach 250,000.

When Wilmington resident Mark Darnell heard about the convoys on a radio report, he hopped in a car and headed to port to wave to passing troops.

"I hate to see us going to war, but I like to see we've got such good military backing," Darnell said. "I haven't seen anything like this before. It's exciting."

Marine support units ordered to deploy include medical, supply, transportation, maintenance, engineering and military police units. The combat units include tanks, amphibious vehicles, light armored reconnaissance vehicles, combat engineers and infantry.