Thousands of US Sailors and Marines on Alert to Assist the Bahamas After Dorian

FILE -- An MV-22B Osprey adjusts it's landing position on the amphibious assault ship, USS Bataan (LHD 5), Aug. 28, 2019. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kegan E. Kay)
FILE -- An MV-22B Osprey adjusts it's landing position on the amphibious assault ship, USS Bataan (LHD 5), Aug. 28, 2019. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kegan E. Kay)

Marines and sailors training off the coast of North Carolina in preparation for an upcoming deployment are ready to assist in the Bahamas if needed, military officials said this week.

Thousands of troops with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, which includes the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, have equipment that could be used to provide humanitarian assistance in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. The Marines and sailors could be called on to assist in the Carolinas, if needed, or support people in the Bahamas, where the storm left widespread destruction.

"It just happens that the Bataan ... is postured just off the North Carolina coast right now, because it was doing some maneuvers and preparation for readiness," Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters at the Pentagon. "It is actually loaded out in a manner that is actually fairly conducive to operations in support of a natural disaster."

The three ships with the Bataan ARG are equipped with MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, which take off and land like a helicopter but fly long distances like planes. There are also heavy-lift CH-53 and MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters on the ships, O'Shaughnessy said. All three aircraft have been used to move people and deliver food, water and other equipment into areas hit hard by natural disasters.

Related: Coast Guard Rescues 47 in the Bahamas as Hurricane Dorian Kills 5

O'Shaughnessy said there has been no call to send the amphibious assault ship Bataan or other vessels to assist in the Bahamas, but it remains a possibility.

"I consider the ARG/MEU as just one of the tools in our toolkit," he said. "We have a lot of tools in our toolkit, all the way from, you know, from the air, from the Navy, from the Marines, from the Army, that we can apply."

Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said Thursday that National Guard troops could assist in the Bahamas as well. Members of the Rhode Island National Guard, which has worked closely with the Bahamas as part of the service's state-partnership program, are in the country to help coordinate a possible response, he said.

At least 20 people were killed in the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian; officials warn that figure could go much higher. Thousands have been displaced by flooding and other destruction as the hurricane -- the second-strongest Atlantic storm on record and the strongest ever to hit the Bahamas -- hovered over the island country.

Members of the U.S. Agency for International Development have deployed to the Bahamas to assess the damage, bringing plastic sheeting, hygiene kits, water buckets and chainsaws, the agency announced this week.

O'Shaughnessy said his command is working closely with USAID and the State Department to "see how our maritime and air capabilities and resources could support ... the people of the Bahamas in their time of need."

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel on the East Coast have been affected by the storm as the hurricane makes its way north. Marines and recruits at Parris Island in South Carolina, along with those at a nearby air station in Beaufort, have been evacuated.

Ships and aircraft have also been moved out of the storm's path.

O'Shaughnessy and Lengyel both warned that the storm has proven to be unpredictable.

"Given the storm's unpredictability and massive strength, the agility and responsiveness of the Department of Defense [to] be able to bring forces is critically important, and as such we remain postured to be able to respond," O'Shaughnessy said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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