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Servicemembers on the USS Harry S. Truman are relishing some down time on a Mediterranean island before the aircraft carrier and its battle group head toward the Persian Gulf for a routine deployment.

But troops know this deployment could be anything but routine, as the military mobilizes for a possible war against Iraq.

“The president told us a couple of months ago to be ready, and we’re ready for a variety of scenarios,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brenda Malone, battle group spokeswoman.

The carrier’s 5,500 sailors and Marines pulled into Souda Bay, Crete, on Monday for a liberty stop. The Truman battle group left Norfolk, Va., on Dec. 5 for a six-month deployment to relieve the George Washington battle group.

Pilots on the Truman have been regularly flying the battle group’s 70 or so aircraft to prepare to patrol the no-fly zone over southern Iraq.

It’s only the second deployment for the carrier, commissioned in 1998. Its maiden deployment, also to the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf, was in 2000.

About 1,000 peaceful demonstrators greeted the Nimitz-class carrier last week in the southern French port of Marseille, protesting the ship’s visit and possible U.S. military action against Iraq.

Though the carrier got a warm welcome in Souda Bay, troops were told to stay in large groups and to return to the ship earlier in the evening because six George Washington sailors were attacked last month, said Cmdr. Bob Ross, 6th Fleet spokesman. A couple of officers were treated for minor cuts after a handful of local teens threw rocks at them in an unprovoked incident, Ross said.

“When you have these large ships visit where you have over 5,000 people aboard, to occasionally have an incident should not be unexpected,” he said.

While the carrier is in Souda Bay this week, Truman troops have taken in traditional dancing and hiking to ruins. Some plan to take on Crete-based servicemembers in sports events, including bowling and basketball tournaments. About 1,600 U.S. troops are stationed at Souda, the Navy’s busiest port in Europe, said Paul Farley, base spokesman.

Sightseeing highlights for Petty Officer 2nd Class Kirk Blythe, 31, included the local naval museum. He spent most of New Year’s Eve on the computer, chatting with his fiancee, whom he plans to marry “hopefully, when we get back from deployment,” he said in a phone interview.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Wilant, 29, is on his third deployment to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf.

The electronics technician said he hasn’t heard much buzz on the carrier about Iraq.

“Everything is status quo so far, there’s no over-excitement,” he said. “We just follow the news on CNN. We know as much as you guys do back home.”

About 8,000 servicemembers belong to the Truman battle group. The carrier’s nine escort ships are elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

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