Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Troops ship out by the thousands

For loved ones, the wait begins

The Associated Press

More than 4,000 Marines and sailors left San Diego early Monday for a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf and a possible war with Iraq. Among them was 22-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Ronald Sanger of New Burlington, a graduate of Finneytown High School.

Lance Cpl. John Sanger of New Burlington gets his last visit with his wife, Ange, before leaving aboard the USS Tarawa for deployment Monday in San Diego.
(AP/John Bazemore photo)
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"He just called one last time to say goodbye before he left," said his father, John Sanger. "I just told him I loved him, and he told me he loved me.

"I told him to give me a call as soon as he could. I'm proud of him," he said. "He knows anything could happen when he's over there. I just hope and pray he stays safe."

Ange Sanger, Cpl. Sanger's wife, said watching her husband leave was difficult. The couple, who were high-school sweethearts, got married in August so they would have plenty of time to spend together before his deployment.

"Him leaving is so confusing in a way, because you don't know if we're going to war or not, or when he'll be home," said an emotional Mrs. Sanger, who is a native of Finneytown. "There are just so many questions."

Mrs. Sanger said her husband reassured her before he left that everything would be OK. His words provided some solace, but Mrs. Sanger said she still worries. She said she has already e-mailed him four times since he left Monday morning.

"He told me he loved me and he promised he'd be coming home," Mrs. Sanger said of their final conversation. "He told me to just keep a smile on my face."

Since Christmas, the Pentagon has begun alerting units around the United States and overseas to prepare for deployment. More than 10,000 Army soldiers in Georgia were preparing for deployment Monday night. The hospital ship USNS Comfort churned out of Baltimore Monday morning.

President Bush has threatened to attack Iraq if it does not eliminate weapons of mass destruction as required by United Nations resolutions adopted after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

On Sunday, snow fell steadily on the crew of the Comfort, bathing the east Baltimore docks in white as sailors and medical staffers boarded the massive, whitewashed ship painted with huge, red crosses. The crew includes about 300 Navy personnel and 61 civilian mariners.

Jason Sully said a tearful goodbye to his wife, Melanie.

"More than anything, just being gone is going to be hardest. The only thing I can do is expect the worst and hope for the best," said Mr. Sully, 30, an electronics technician from Chesapeake, Va.

The 1,000-bed Comfort is bound for duty at the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. It has 12 operating rooms and is equipped to handle troops injured in biological and chemical attacks.

The Comfort last deployed for war during the Gulf war of 1990 and 1991. It also sailed to New York to help emergency crews after the collapse of the World Trade Center.

In Georgia, two brigades of more than 10,000 soldiers from Fort Benning and Fort Stewart were preparing to leave for Kuwait. The 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) would play a leading role in another war with Iraq, military analysts say.

"The decisive element here, I think, is going to be the 3rd Mech," said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a nonprofit defense policy group. "All those Abrams and Bradleys (tanks) showing up on the outskirts of Baghdad, that is going to convince the Iraqi people that Saddam's end is at hand."

The members of the 3rd Infantry Division packed their bags last week after the Pentagon alerted them that deployment was imminent. The 3rd Infantry, which will have up to 17,000 troops in the Persian Gulf region, specializes in desert warfare.

Enquirer reporter Kevin Aldridge contributed.

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