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WASHINGTON — Hurricane Gustav weakened slightly Saturday as it passed over Cuba, but the Defense Department was taking no chances as the huge storm moved toward the Gulf Coast.

U.S. Northern Command spokesman Michael Kucharek told Stars and Stripes on Sunday morning that the military’s forward Operational Command Post, set up at England Airpark in central Louisiana, "could, if Gustav becomes catastrophic and relief efforts become large, morph into a Joint Task Force much like you saw during Hurricane Katrina."

JTF-Katrina was led by Army Lt. Gen. Russell Honore during Katrina relief.

The operational command post can quickly receive augmentation and further support hurricane relief efforts in close cooperation and in support of civil authorities.

According to a report in Sunday’s (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, the Louisiana National Guard has mobilized its entire force of more than 7,000 soldiers and airmen and is asking other states for at least 1,500 more.

The (Norfolk, Va.) Virginian-Pilot reported that the Navy ordered the amphibious ship USS Bataan to deploy and prepare for disaster relief. The Bataan, with a crew of 1,100 sailors, aircraft and landing vessels, will deploy Monday from Norfolk Naval Station.

In smaller numbers, both active-duty and Guard troops from several states were being pressed into service, while nonessential personnel from Mississippi’s Keesler Air Force Base were being evacuated.

NORTHCOM, working with U.S. Transportation Command, has provided contracted airlift and begun to move up to 16,000 general population passengers and cargo.

The airlift is moving passengers from New Orleans to San Antonio; Nashville, Tenn.; Louisville, Ky.; and Fort Smith, Ark.

Also, the DOD has started aeromedical evacuations for up to 1,000 patients for Louisiana and up to 500 patients for Texas.

NORTHCOM has also designated five installations as FEMA National Logistics Staging Areas to support forward distribution of supplies and equipment: Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.; Columbus Air Force Base, Miss; Naval Air Station Meridian, Miss.; Fort Rucker, Ala.; and Fort Benning, Ga.

Headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, NORTHCOM oversees the military’s homeland defense and supports civilian authorities.

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