USS Peleliu crew deploys to Middle East, Western Pacific

4,000 Marines, sailors to be deployed for 7 months


U.S. Navy warships and an expeditionary force of Camp Pendleton-based Marines trained to extract Americans who get caught up in mob violence overseas departed Monday for a 7-month deployment to the Middle East and Western Pacific.

The Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group, led by the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu, includes some 4,000 Marines and sailors and is under the command of Capt. Mark Sakaguchi. As a captain in charge of multiple amphibious ships, he will bear the title of Commodore during the deployment, according to the Navy.

Besides the Peleliu, the force includes the amphibious transport dock USS Green Bay and the dock landing ship USS Rushmore. The Peleliu returned from its most recent deployment in December 2010, and the Rushmore did so in April of that year. The Green Bay's most recent deployment ended almost a year ago.

"It's very, very sad. It's kind of overwhelming," said Sara Anzalone, whose boyfriend is on the USS Pelelieu.

Anzalone snapped a few last pictures of her boyfriend on deck of the Pelelieu. It's the last time she'll see him for at least 7 long months.

"Sometimes you'll actually think about it and you'll start crying, but it all just rushes at you when you're actually around the boat saying goodbye," she told 10News.

For Kelsea Gagnon, the day was emotional, but there was also a special silver lining.

"It's OK. It's his last deployment so he'll be out so when he gets back, he's free," she said.

For Gagnon's husband, Philip, there was concern about the situation in the Middle East, but not concern for himself.

"More of a concern for the tan guys. You know us guys in blue … we'll be there on the ship to support them, anything they need," he said.

"We came here to support him," said grandmother Joanne Grace, speaking of her grandson heading out for his first deployment.

Grace and about 10 other family members were all clad in bright green Hawaiian skirts -- a sure way for their loved one to spot them.

"It'll take us time to get over into theater, but this is a normally scheduled deployment and if we're called to go and support what's going on in the world now, then that's what we're here for," Sakaguchi said.

Also deploying Friday: The Marine Corps' 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and elements of Fleet Surgical Team 1, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 23, Assault Craft Units 1 and 5, and Beach Master Unit 1.

Their departure comes against the background of ongoing tensions with Iran over its nuclear program and amid anti-American unrest throughout the Muslim world triggered by an anti-Muslim film trailer posted on the Internet.

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans working for the State Department -- including two local former Navy SEALS, Encinitas resident Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods of Imperial Beach -- were killed by an armed force in the Libyan city of Benghazi on Sept. 11 amid demonstrations over the film.

The sailors and Marines in the Peleliu Ready Group recently completed nine months of training scheduled long before the current anti-American unrest flared. Rescue training is a common part of pre-deployment training for Marine expeditionary units.

The final pre-deployment training was on the evacuation of non- combatants from hot-spots, according to U.S military authorities. The exercise included role-players on San Nicholas Island and Victorville in San Bernardino County who were "rescued" by Marines and taken by helicopter to Camp Pendleton, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The 15th MEU was on a deployment similar to the one starting Monday when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred. Summoned back to their ships from a port-call in Australia, the Marines were among the first U.S. combat forces into Afghanistan just weeks later, The Times reported.

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