Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Blount Island Ready for Duty; Port to Process Vital Materiel

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Blount Island Ready for Duty; Port to Process Vital Materiel

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Patterson, Times-Union staff writer

The Army's storied 101st Airborne Division will join military units streaming overseas and ship hundreds of helicopters and vehicles through Jacksonville's Blount Island, military officials said yesterday.

More than 250 helicopters will be dismantled, packed in shrink-wrap and loaded onto ships in Jacksonville, most of those during the next week, said George Heath, a division spokesman.

Army officials wouldn't discuss the destination, except to say the 101st would go to the U.S. Central Command's area of operations "to support possible future operations in the global war on terrorism." The Central Command is responsible for forces fighting in Afghanistan and massing for a possible war with Iraq.

The division began flying helicopters from its home at Fort Campbell, Ky., to Jacksonville Naval Air Station this week, saying Wednesday they were for a training exercise.

The station is being used as a staging area for aircraft before traveling north along the St. Johns River to the port.

Heath said some shipping preparations could be under way today at Blount Island.

That will reprise a role Jacksonville's port played in 1990, when the same division shipped out for the Gulf War. Local officials at that time described the operation as the largest military shipment ever through the port.

Most of the unit's soldiers are still in Kentucky, and troops will not depart through Jacksonville. No schedule was announced for their movement, but they are expected to fly overseas and arrive about the same time as the ships carrying their equipment.

The division is part of a roll-call of units being dispatched overseas. The number of U.S. forces around the Persian Gulf was estimated at 113,000 this week and was expected to reach 150,000 by mid-February.

The 101st is the Army's only air assault division and will bring four kinds of aircraft, from Kiowa scout helicopters to Chinook cargo helicopters. The aircraft will give planners more ability to conduct long-range helicopter attacks and air assaults.

The division also will ship a large number of cargo trucks, Humvees, fuel trucks and trailers through Blount Island, Heath said. …

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