EUCOM puts all on alert for Gulf
HEIDELBERG, Germany — U.S. European Command has put its forces on alert following new orders from the Pentagon to dispatch another 35,000 troops to the Middle East.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed the latest orders Friday evening.
The orders are expected to draw from units mostly in the United States, but will include at least 1,000 troops from units in Europe, say military officials.
“Because of the deployment order, forces in European Command have been alerted that they could be moving soon,” said Capt. Geoffrey Fischer, a EUCOM spokesman. EUCOM has about 100,000 permanently assigned troops spread mostly throughout Germany, England, Italy and Spain.
A vetting process is now under way to determine which specific units will get the nod, he said.
Some units are already on the front burner, however.
About 1,000 V Corps soldiers got their marching orders for the Persian Gulf region Saturday morning. Most of those troops come from V Corps’ 12th Aviation Brigade, based in Giebelstadt, and the 22nd Signal Brigade, based in Darmstadt, according to corps spokesman Maj. Dean Thurmond.
“The soldiers will deploy between now and mid-February,” said Thurmond.
A small contingent from the corps’ military police brigade and helicopter mechanics from the 3rd Corps Support Command are also among those deploying from Germany.
Thurmond said the latest wave also would include more than two dozen helicopters. Among them will be about 15 heavy-lifting CH-47 Chinook helicopters from F Company, 159th Aviation in Giebelstadt. The unit, known as “Big Windy,” is the only Chinook outfit in Europe.
Also included are about 12 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation.
Following the mobilization of 25,000 troops on Christmas Eve and another 5,000 earlier this week, the latest orders continue a rapid-fire build up that will soon double the 60,000-strong force already gathered in the Middle East.
Among them have been an ever-growing list of Europe-based units:
• A battalion of SCUD-busting Patriot missiles from 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery based in Hanau recently deployed to Israel to participate in live-fire exercises and shore up Israeli defenses.
• The 94th Engineer Battalion from Vilseck is finishing preparations for its deployment to Kuwait, with more than 500 pieces of heavy construction equipment now bound for a port in northern Europe.
• A contingent of F-16CJ “Wild Weasels” from the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base is also finishing preparations to deploy to the Middle East in the coming days.
An aviation task force built around the Illesheim-based 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment deployed to Kuwait in October with about 28 aircraft, mostly AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.
• The V Corps headquarters staff deployed to Kuwait in October as well. Although the bulk of the staff returned to Germany following top level war games in the region, a cadre of staff officers and troops have remained behind to keep the corps command post up and running.
V Corps is slated to lead another series of war rehearsals later this month in Germany involving four divisions. Dubbed “Victory Scrimmage,” the exercise is designed to fine tune war plans should President Bush order an invasion of Iraq.
Meanwhile, preparations continue.
Among the latest call ups are a slew of units from XVIII Airborne Corps based at Fort Bragg, N.C., including elements of the 1st Corps Support Command, 44th Medical Command, XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery, 18th Aviation Brigade, 101st Chemical Company, and 18th Soldier Support Group, according to an Army statement.
“Other Corps elements at Fort Bragg have been directed to prepare to deploy in the event they are required,” reads the statement released late Friday.
The XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters is currently leading operations in Afghanistan. Including the 82nd Airborne Division that’s also in Afghanistan, and 3rd Infantry Division units in Kuwait, the corps currently has 13,000 troops deployed in the region.
While no sailors based in the Mediterranean are expected to deploy into the Middle East, Navy officials are predicting a busy time ahead.
“Our bases and forces in the Mediterranean will continue to fulfill their role in providing support and services to forces as they transit through the Mediterranean,” said Lt. Cmdr. Carla McCarthy, spokeswoman for Navy’s forces in Europe.
Much of the support in the coming days will revolve around the armada of ships now steaming for the Persian Gulf from the East Coast as they pass through the Mediterranean to the Suez Canal.
Some 7,000 Marines, mostly from Camp Lejeune, N.C., began embarking aboard a seven-ship amphibious group on Saturday, said Marine spokeswoman Capt. Kelly Frushour.
Along with the 2nd Marine Regiment, the entire Marine Aircraft Group 29 also is deploying with its roster of Harrier jump jets and attack and support helicopters.
Built around two Navy big decks, the USS Kearsarge and Bataan, the amphibious task force joins the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman as well as the 1,000-bed hospital ship USNS Comfort also bound for the Persian Gulf via the Mediterranean.