NORFOLK — Five months into operations in the Persian Gulf, the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group is prepping for a move to the Mediterranean.
The ready group, which comprises the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge, the amphibious transport dock Arlington and the dock landing ship Oak Hill, arrived in the Middle East in November to assist with operations in Iraq against the Islamic State as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.
Capt. Augustus Bennett, commodore of the ready group, said in a telephone interview Monday that the crew should be arriving in the Navy's 6th Fleet area of operations in the next month. The Naples, Italy-based 6th Fleet extends from Europe, Africa and Russia.
Capt. Larry Getz, commanding officer of the USS Kearsarge, said northern Africa will be an area of focus, adding that the crew continues to train daily.
The group is nearing the end of a seven-month deployment. Bennett could not say whether that may be extended. The deployment includes 2,200 members of the Camp Lejuene-based 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The March 19 death of Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin, who was killed by enemy rocket fire in Iraq while serving with a small detachment of the MEU, offered new clues about the extent of the roles the Navy and Marines are playing in the U.S. strategy to root out ISIS.
The detachment had set up a fire base near Makhmur in northern Iraq to provide protection for Iraqi forces as they prepare to retake Mosul in coming months, said Army Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, in a March 21 Pentagon briefing.
Warren called the Marines' presence in Iraq an accelerant for the Iraqi's upcoming mission rather than a sign of escalating U.S. combat operations.
Cardin's death was tough on sailors and Marines who have melded into a family, but Getz said morale remains high.
"They feel a sense of pride and value that they were able to be a part of flying combat sorties in Operation Inherent Resolve," Getz said. "They feel a sense of pride that they're part of a team that's something kind of special."