Hawai'i-based cutter deployed to Mideast
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
The Honolulu-based Coast Guard cutter Walnut was ordered to the Middle East yesterday as the country continues its buildup of military might in preparation for a war against Iraq.
The Walnut's crew of about 50 is the first large contingent from the Coast Guard in Hawai'i to be sent to the Middle East. Earlier, a helicopter and its five crew members from Barbers Point were attached to the San Francisco-based cutter Boutwell, which has been deployed.
Coast Guard spokesman Chief Petty Officer Tyler Johnson said the Walnut left for Guam Jan. 18 to help repair damage from Super Typhoon Pongsona. Johnson said the cutter is headed directly to the Middle East.
The Walnut is the latest Hawai'i-based military unit to be deployed in anticipation of the war against Saddam Hussein. About 220 members of the Marine 1st Radio Battalion left earlier this week for the Middle East. More than 350 Pearl Harbor sailors on the destroyer O'Kane left Jan. 17, and 200 Marines from Camp Smith left about a year ago to set up headquarters in Bahrain.
About 40 Marine reservists from the 4th Force Reconnaissance Co. deployed Feb. 9 for the Middle East. The reservists were activated Jan. 14.
The Walnut's mission was not released, but Johnson yesterday described the vessel as "multimission capable."
"It has boarding-team capabilities, so it can board vessels. It has the ability to lay buoys. It has the ability to deal with oil spills. So it's multifunctional," Johnson said. He said the cutter crew also is prepared to defend itself if necessary.
A typical Coast Guard cutter is able to do search-and-rescue and law-enforcement operations, he said.
Johnson added that the vessel and its crew will be taking its orders from U.S. Central Command.
The departure of the Walnut should not affect Coast Guard operations in Hawai'i and the Pacific, Johnson said. Two other buoy tenders the Kukui and Sassafras, which is in Guam are still assigned to the 14th District, along with the cutters Jarvis and Rush, and smaller vessels, Assateague and Washington.
"We still have plenty of assets to cover Hawai'i and do what we need to do in and around the Hawaiian Islands," Johnson said.
The Walnut crew will join the Boutwell and eight patrol boats from the East Coast, which represents 3 percent of the Coast Guard's work force that will be deployed to the Middle East, he said. Johnson added that the length of the deployment has not been determined.
Correction: Forty Marine reservists from the 4th Force Reconnaissance Company deployed Feb. 9 for the Middle East. A previous version of this story contained incorrect information.