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Warships deploy with Marines to Middle East

Armed ForcesDavid CampbellU.S. NavyIranian Nuclear ProgramChristopher StevensU.S. Department of StateLos Angeles Times

SAN DIEGO -- Three U.S. Navy warships and an expeditionary force of Camp Pendleton-based Marines trained to extract Americans who get caught up in mob violence overseas departed Monday for a 7-month deployment to the Middle East and Western Pacific.

The amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu and the amphibious transport dock USS Green Bay cast off before noon. The third ship in the  Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group, teh dock landing ship USS Rushmore, was set to leave Monday afternoon.

The Pelelir group  includes some 4,000 Marines and sailors and is under the command of Capt. Mark Sakaguchi. As a captain in charge of multiple amphibious ships, he will bear the title of Commodore during the deployment, according to the Navy.

"We're prepared to do everything from humanitarian relief, disaster relief, maritime support operations up to the full scale combat," said Capt. Mark Sakaguchi. "So whatever the situaiton is and our leaders give us the task, we'll respond. We're prepared."

The Peleliu returned from its most recent deployment in December 2010, and the Rushmore did so in April of that year. The Green Bay's most recent deployment ended almost a year ago.

Also deploying Monday was the Marine Corps' 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and elements of Fleet Surgical Team 1, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 23, Assault Craft Units 1 and 5, and Beach Master Unit 1.

"I like using the sports analogy when i talk about it," Col. Scott David Campbell who is in charge of the 15th MEU told reporters.  "We train to do a bunch of different things, like you were alluding to, reinforcing an embassy or evacuating an embassy from a country. These are like individual sports that we train to do when we play the away game."

Their departure comes against the background of ongoing tensions with Iran over its nuclear program and amid anti-American unrest throughout the Muslim world triggered by an anti-Muslim film trailer posted on the Internet.

"It scares us a lot but their job is to protect the nation," said Jenny Delos-Santos who said good-bye Monday to her deploying cousing.  "It's a hard life being in the miltiary."

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans working for the State Department -- including two local former Navy SEALS, Encinitas resident Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods of Imperial Beach -- were killed by an armed force in the Libyan city of Benghazi on Sept. 11 amid demonstrations over the film.

The sailors and Marines in the Peleliu Ready Group recently completed nine months of training scheduled long before the current anti-American unrest flared. Rescue training is a common part of pre-deployment training for Marine expeditionary units.

"Emotions and hormones are everywhere," said Melissa Reeves who said good-bye to her huband of two years for their first deployment. "(I'm) nervous.  I'm proud of him but at the same scared i won't see him for a long time, but I'm trying to be as optimistic as possible."

The final pre-deployment training was on the evacuation of non- combatants from hot-spots, according to U.S military authorities. The exercise included role-players on San Nicholas Island and Victorville in San Bernardino County who were "rescued" by Marines and taken by helicopter to Camp Pendleton, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The 15th MEU was on a deployment similar to the one starting today when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred. Summoned back to their ships from a port-call in Australia, the Marines were among the first U.S. combat forces into Afghanistan just weeks later, The Times reported.

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Armed ForcesDavid CampbellU.S. NavyIranian Nuclear ProgramChristopher StevensU.S. Department of StateLos Angeles Times