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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Pearl warships to join carrier groups in Gulf

 •  Bush certain Iraq isn't cooperating

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

At least three more Pearl Harbor-based warships are headed to the Persian Gulf region as the United States strengthens its aircraft carrier force within striking distance of Iraq.

The guided missile destroyer Paul Hamilton and frigate Reuben James are on extended deployment as part of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group, which the Navy said yesterday is being ordered to the region. The destroyer Fletcher will become part of the USS Constellation battle group, which is already in the northern Persian Gulf.

The deployments are part of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's decision to double the number of aircraft carrier battle groups positioned within striking distance of Iraq, defense officials said yesterday.

More than 60,000 troops already are in the region, to be joined over the next few weeks by about 120,000 more. When the buildup is finished, before the end of February, President Bush will have the option of attacking Iraq from multiple directions.

The Navy said the Norfolk, Va.-based carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and its battle group also are being sent to the Gulf region.

It was unclear whether the Pearl Harbor-based submarines Honolulu and Cheyenne, both in Perth, Australia — recently with the Lincoln — would accompany the carrier. The Lincoln, which is homeported in Everett, Wash., left Perth on Monday after undergoing repairs.

The Fletcher's crew is scheduled to be replaced by a crew from San Diego tomorrow in Australia as part of a Navy experiment called "Sea Swap" that allows ships to be kept at sea longer. Following the switch, the old crew will fly back to Hawai'i.

More than 350 sailors are aboard the destroyer Paul Hamilton, and more than 200 on the frigate Reuben James.

The Lincoln battle group, which left for deployment in July, was originally scheduled to return home this month.

That changed on Jan. 1, when it was announced the battle group would be extended indefinitely, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Bender, a public affairs officer on the Lincoln, said via e-mail yesterday.

"Just as our sailors pull together as a team, Navy families pull together, too, leaning on one another for strength," Bender said. "We're proud of our families because their sacrifices are just as important as those of the sailors afloat."

More than 350 sailors on the Pearl Harbor-based guided missile destroyer USS O'Kane left on Friday for possible action against Iraq.

Approximately 250 Kane'ohe Bay Marines from the 1st Radio Battalion, which provides communications support for Marine Corps intelligence organizations and conducts electronic warfare, also have been ordered to the Middle East as part of the infrastructure buildup there.

In addition to the carrier Constellation in the northern Persian Gulf, the USS Harry S. Truman battle group is in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Navy also has available for short-notice deployment the USS George Washington, which returned from a six-month tour in the Mediterranean shortly before Christmas and would normally not deploy again for at least a year.

Each carrier has an air wing of 70 to 80 aircraft, including F/A-18 Hornets and F-14 Tomcats, as well as surveillance, electronic warfare, search-and-rescue and command and control aircraft. A battle group also includes surface ships capable of firing Tomahawk cruise missiles and at least one submarine.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.