SHU'AIBAH PORT, Kuwait — Cargo ships are lining up around the world to get
into Kuwait as 65 ships carrying more than 3 million tons of U.S. military
equipment will make their way to this port over the next two months.
And soldiers from the 598th Transportation Group will be waiting to move the
tanks and trucks a little farther on down the line.
Meanwhile, most of the military hardware currently in
Iraq will be shipping out.
"We heard it's the largest rotation of troops and equipment since World War
II," said Maj. Faris Williams, 39, a port operations officer from Jacksonville,
Fla. "You've got deployment and redeployment going on at the same time."
Roughly 140,000 troops, many from the Germany-based 1st Armored Division,
will depart Iraq this spring after a one-year combat tour. Replacing them are
about 110,000 soldiers from the States and from the 1st Infantry Division in
The transportation group, a conglomerate of 12 Army Reserve detachments,
began planning for the upcoming operation in October, Williams said.
From February to April, ships carrying up to 2,000 pieces of equipment each
will dock at Shu'aibah, a commercial port 20 miles south of Kuwait City.
"These ships coming are floating garages, three football fields long and
seven decks high," Williams said. "That's a lot of cargo."
The port is running 24-hour operations. While three ships are unloading
equipment, soldiers leaving the Middle East are driving trucks and tanks into
the cargo hold of a fourth ship.
And it's not yet as busy as last year, when every available berth was filled
as the military prepared to invade Iraq. But last year's deployments pale in
comparison to what's coming, said Lt. Cmdr. Ray Beno, 39, a Naval Reservist
from Glen Head, N.Y.
From 975,000 to 1.3 million pieces of equipment will arrive at the port,
while gear coming from Iraq waits to be shipped home.
Getting the equipment on and off the ships is the easy part. The nearby
staging ground, where tanks and trucks are parked before being moved, can hold
only 6,000 vehicles, Beno said.
"The question is, can we move it off the port?" Beno said. "The key is
getting troops on the ground to move it up north."
Meanwhile, soldiers must scrub their vehicles and clear customs before
corralling them in a "sterile" yard. Just north at Camp Arifjan, thousands of
vehicles wait in gated marshalling areas for delivery to the port. Some are
from the 4th Infantry Division and the 82nd Airborne Division, two units
scheduled to leave Iraq. Port officials are trying to get the 101st Airborne
Division's gear out within the next two weeks.
Starting in mid-February, the first of 65 ships will begin arriving. Five are
coming from North Sea ports, carrying the 1st Infantry Division's gear. Five
more will arrive from the States with the 1st Cavalry Division.
This week, two Germany-based units were finishing up work at the port.
The Vilseck-based 94th Engineer Battalion finished loading trucks onto a
civilian ship, the Northern Lights. Nearby, soldiers from the Giebelstadt-based
159th Aviation Regiment, known as "Big Windy," covered Chinook helicopters with
As they wrapped the white sheets around the aircraft, the aviators knew it
was their final task.
"It's a great feeling after a yearlong deployment," said Spc. Alvin A.
Irizarry, 24, of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. "Just a few more days, and we're going
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