NORFOLK, Va. - After watching dozens of Navy ships deploy in recent months in preparation for a possible war with Iraq, sailors on three amphibious ships left Tuesday in this port's last planned deployment for the near future.
"Trust me, we all want to go over there and get it over with," said Capt. David C. Taylor, commander of Amphibious Squadron Six. He said the crews had trained hard and had been ready to go since late November.
The amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima left Norfolk Naval Station on its maiden deployment, along with the amphibious transport dock ship USS Nashville. The amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall left from nearby Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base.
The ships carried about 2,000 sailors and were headed to Morehead City, N.C., to pick up about 2,200 Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit based at Camp Lejeune.
A banner reading "Let's Roll" hung from the Iwo Jima, the lead ship of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group. The banner also bore a quote from President Bush - "We will not tire, we will not falter, we will not fail" - and a drawing of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
Crew members made the banner to remind them of the purpose of their mission, said Capt. John W. Snedeker Jr., commanding officer of the Iwo Jima.
"You can actually feel the energy coming out of the Iwo Jima today," Snedeker said.
Navy officials, who declined to say where the ships were going, said they left three days early on a regularly scheduled deployment. Snedeker said he told his crew to be prepared to be gone for a long time, suggesting they are likely headed to the Middle East.
A couple of hundred family members watched from a parking lot near the pier at the Norfolk Naval Station.
Ernest Johnson of Knoxville, Tenn., had been at the base since about 6 a.m. to see off his 26-year-old son, Petty Officer 3rd Class David Johnson.
"It certainly would be wonderful if none of them had to go," he said. "But it's something he has to do and I'm proud of him. He's carrying on the Navy tradition and keeping us all free."
Since late August, half of the 70 Navy ships based in Norfolk have deployed, carrying 27,000 sailors and 12,000 Marines. Most are in the Middle East and Mediterranean region.
Many of the piers of the naval station, the world's largest navy base, are empty. About half of the 75 ships based in Norfolk are at sea.
Sound Off...What do you think?
Join the discussion.