Just settling in for the trans-Atlantic crossing that would bring them home to the States for the holidays, the sailors and Marines aboard the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group got the call to turn around and head to Israel.
The USS New York, USS Iwo Jima, and the USS Gunston Hall had all been winding down six month deployments when the Pentagon ordered the group on reserve to help Americans looking to get out of Israel in the coming days.
Barbara Starr at CNN reports one official said: "' This is due diligence. It is better to be prepared should there be a need ... the ships would be used only for assisting Americans and not for any combat role."
Officials are also maintaining that an evacuation remains a remote possibility, but this move underscores the seriousness with which the U.S. is viewing the Israel/Gaza flare up. It also seems to imply that Washington either knows something the public doesn't, like the conflict could be set to escalate; or in fact it knows just as little as everyone else, and wants to be prepared regardless.
These ships all carry Marines and are designed to serve as floating hospitals should the need arise.
The three ships were headed east, having just passed the Strait of Gibraltar when orders came down to reverse course and head back across the Mediterranean to the coast of Israel. The ships are now supposed to be at the ready should a surge of Americans decide that they want to get out of Israel. While these Amphibious Assault Ships can certainly handle transport, they're also humanitarian vessels designed to treat immense numbers of casualties.
When natural disasters strike and produce numerous wounded these ships convert their hanger bays, huge indoor spaces, into makeshift hospitals.
The Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) can leave the amphibious ship's well deck, a landing area in the rear of the ships accessible through a huge folding door onto the sea, and zip to shore at 45 mph carrying a full load of 60 tons. It can carry as many people as it can cram aboard its 87' by 47 foot frame.
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