ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy received a Prepare-To-Deploy order from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, calling for two aircraft carrier battle groups for possible deployment to the Persian Gulf, a Navy official said.

The PTD mandates the battle groups be ready to go within 96 hours of a yet-to-be-determined date, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The order taps the USS George Washington battle group as the selected carrier from the Atlantic Fleet, the official said.

Navy leaders have yet to determine which carrier from the Pacific Fleet will be sent to the Gulf region, but it is between the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Kitty Hawk. The decision should be made in the next few days, the official said.

The George Washington returned Dec. 20 to its home port of Norfolk, Va., following its role in Operation Enduring Freedom. The Lincoln is on a port visit in Perth, Australia, and the Kitty Hawk is at its home port of Yokosuka, Japan.

The only Navy vessel to have received an actual activation order is the USNS Comfort, the Navy’s hospital ship now at it home port of Baltimore. The crew received the deployment order Thursday and will set sail sometime next week, said Marge Holtz, spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command.

While the vessel could be ready to sail as early as Monday, Navy leaders decided to wait to stock it until after New Year’s, Holtz said.

“Because of the holiday and the weekend, we could have asked our suppliers … to accommodate us and I’m sure they would have, but we would have seen an increase in cost and we thought [waiting] was more prudent,” Holtz said. “There’s nothing immediate about the order.”

Holtz would not say where the ship is heading, but said it takes 23 days for the converted tanker to get to the Indian Ocean. The Associated Press reported the ship is sailing to Diego Garcia, a British island in the Indian Ocean where the United States has staged several aircraft.

“It’s not a speedy ship,” Holtz said. “That’s one of the reasons they’ve activated her now, so she can be ready and in place if needed.”

The Comfort will deploy with an active-duty crew of 225 sailors and 61 civilians. When fully activated to its 1,000-bed capacity, the ship employs a crew of 1,200, she said.

Both the Comfort and the USNS Mercy were activated and in theater during the Persian Gulf War. They treated about 300 patients, more than half of them “the result of auto accidents and things of that nature,” she said.

An Army official confirmed to Stripes that some Army units also have received deployment orders, but Army spokesmen were not able to respond with details by press time.

The Air Force also has received deployment orders.

Lt. Wes Ticer, Air Force Air Combat Command spokesman, confirmed Friday that deployment orders have been given to the following Air Force bases: Seymour Johnson, in North Carolina; Langley, in Virginia; Ellsworth, in South Dakota; Moody, in Georgia; and Nellis, in Nevada.

Best known for hosting the United States Air Force Weapons School, Nellis also is home to a number of deployable squadrons, including the 11th and 15th Reconnaissance Squadrons, which are the Air Force’s only two RQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, squadrons; the 66th Rescue Squadron, which is one of six Air Force active-duty HH-60 combat rescue units; and the 547th Intelligence Squadron.

Seymour Johnson is home to the 4th Fighter Wing, whose F-15E pilots did yeoman service during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In fact, when Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait in August 1990, it was the 4th that responded with the deployment of the 336th Tactical Fighter Squadron on Aug. 9, soon followed by the wing’s 335th TFS, on Dec. 27.

Since the end of the Gulf War, the 4th FW has maintained a near-constant presence in Southwest Asia, including more than 15 deployments to Dhahran Air Base, and tours at Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia; the first-ever F-15E operations from Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait; and deployments to Doha, Qatar.

Another prominent F-15 wing, the 1st Fighter Wing, is located at Langley, which also is headquarters to Air Combat Command. The 1st FW’s 27th and 71st Fighter Squadrons and support personnel also participated in Operation Desert Storm and subsequent monitoring of the Northern and Southern no-fly zones.

Ellsworth, meanwhile, is home to the 28th Bomb Wing, which includes two tactical B-1 bomber squadrons and support operations. Moody is home to the 347th Rescue Wing.

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