With hours’ notice, US fast-response force flies to Mideast 

Source: With hours’ notice, US fast-response force flies to Mideast | The Times of Israel

Total of 3,500 American soldiers to ship to region this week; paratroopers, families caught off guard by New Year’s Eve deployment order; UK sends warships to Strait of Hormuz

US paratroopers prepare equipment and load aircraft for deployment from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, January 4, 2020. (US Army/Spc. Hubert Delany III)

US paratroopers prepare equipment and load aircraft for deployment from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, January 4, 2020. (US Army/Spc. Hubert Delany III)

Hundreds of US soldiers deployed Saturday from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Kuwait to serve as reinforcements in the Middle East amid rising tensions following the US killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division, told The Associated Press that 3,500 members of the division’s quick-deployment brigade, known officially as its Immediate Response Force, will have deployed within a few days. The most recent group of service members to deploy will join about 700 who left earlier in the week, Burns said.

A loading ramp at Fort Bragg was filled Saturday morning with combat gear and restless soldiers. Some tried to grab a last-minute nap on wooden benches. Reporters saw others filing onto buses.

The additional troop deployments reflect concerns about potential Iranian retaliatory action in the volatile aftermath of Friday’s drone strike that killed Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force who has been blamed for attacks on US troops and American allies going back decades.

US President Donald Trump ordered the airstrike near Baghdad’s international airport. Iran has vowed retribution, raising fears of an all-out war, but it’s unclear how or when a response might come.

Reporters weren’t able to interview the soldiers leaving Fort Bragg on Saturday, but an airman loading one of the cargo planes told an Army cameraman he was making New Year’s plans when he got a call to help load up the soldiers, according to video footage released by the military.

“We’re responsible for loading the cargo. Almost our whole squadron got alerted. Like a bunch of planes are coming over here,” the unnamed airman said. “I was getting ready to go out for New Year’s when they called me.”

In the gray early morning light Saturday, Army video showed soldiers dressed in camouflage fatigues filing into planes, carrying rucksacks and rifles. Humvees were rolled onto another cargo plane and chained in place for the flight to the Middle East.

US soldiers prepare to ship to the Middle East from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, January 4, 2020. (US Army/Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Vandyke)

Burns said the soldiers within the Immediate Response Force train constantly to be ready to respond quickly to crises abroad. When called by their superiors, they have two hours to get to base with their gear and must maintain a state of readiness so that they can be in the air headed to their next location within 18 hours.

“So whether they were on leave, whether they were home drinking a beer, whether they were, you know, hanging out, throwing the kids up in the yard, you get the call and it’s time to go,” he said.

He said that soldiers typically keep individual “go-bags” of their personal gear with them at their living quarters.

The wife of a member of the 82nd Airborne who deployed earlier this week said his departure was so abrupt she didn’t have the chance to say goodbye in person or by phone.

US paratroopers assigned prepare equipment and load aircraft for deployment from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, January 4, 2020. (US Army/Spc. Hubert Delany III)

April Shumard said she was at work on New Year’s Eve and he was watching their five children when he texted her that he had to rush to base. He wasn’t sure if it was a drill or a deployment. She said her husband has been in the military since 2010 and has already deployed twice to Afghanistan. But with those prior deployments, the family had much more time to prepare and say goodbye. This time, she got a second message confirming he was leaving, and he departed in a plane on the afternoon of New Year’s Day.

“The kids kept going, ‘When’s Dad going to be home?’” said Shumard, 42. “It’s literally thrown me for a loop. And him as well. He’s still in disbelief of where he’s gone. Our heads are spun.”

She said that Fayetteville is a tight-knit community, and she expects people to work together to support families who are suddenly missing a parent.

US Army soldiers rest before heading out from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to the Middle East, January 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

“This was so last-minute,” she said, urging people to reach out to 82nd Airborne families. “Just try to help out whoever you know who might need some babysitting or help or just get some groceries and bring it to their house.”

Similarly, Bri’anna Ferry’s husband got the call on New Year’s Eve, and she said he was on a plane to the Middle East within hours. She fears he could miss milestones with their young daughter but also wants him to focus on his mission.

“I told him, don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine,” she said. “Focus on your mission.”

The UK was meanwhile sending navy ships to the Strait of Hormuz to protect shipping, The Guardian reported. Some 20 percent of the world’s traded oil passes through the strait off Iran’s coast, which forms the narrow mouth to the Persian Gulf.

UK-flagged commercial ships would be accompanied through the waterway by the Royal Navy in light of the threat from Iran. UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the HMS Montrose frigate and HMS Defender destroyer would be deployed to the fraught maritime passage.

“The government will take all necessary steps to protect our ships and citizens at this time,” Wallace said.

Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker in July as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz, releasing the ship in September.

The seizure came after British authorities took control of an Iranian tanker earlier in July off the coast of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. The Iranian-flagged ship was suspected of carrying crude oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.


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