Sailors on the USS O'Kane gathered on the sides of the ship yesterday to wave as they left Pearl Harbor. They are headed to the Western Pacific on a mission that could include combat in the Persian Gulf.

Isle forces pack up
for Persian Gulf

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Twelve years ago, Levi Thetford was bagging groceries in Tulsa, Okla., and coping with his junior year in high school as Marines from Kaneohe Bay were fighting in the Gulf War.

Today, Thetford, now 28, is a lance corporal with the 1st Radio Battalion. He and 249 of his colleagues from Kaneohe Bay will soon join the buildup for another possible war with Iraq.

"I'm anxious to do my job," said Thetford, who enlisted nearly two years ago. "I'm proud to be with the people I'm serving with since I know we will do a good job."

The unit is the first sizable deployment from Hawaii to the Middle East since President Bush began sending troops to the region in the past few weeks. Last February, 200 Marines from Camp H.M. Smith shipped out to Bahrain.

Lt. Col. Mark Aycock, the 1st Radio Battalion's commander, spent nearly six months in Bahrain last year as a staff intelligence officer for Marine Forces Pacific after its headquarters was sent there.

He said the Kaneohe Marines will be deployed in small teams in the battle area "to provide communication support for intelligence units and also conduct electronic warfare."

However, not all of the 600-member battalion will be deployed to Southwest Asia, Aycock said.

The entire Kaneohe unit has been sent into combat twice since it was activated here in 1958: to Vietnam in 1965 and to the Persian Gulf in 1991.

Gunnery Sgt. Miguel Rodriguez, a platoon leader, said: "The hardest part will be just getting out of the door. ... No one is ever really ready for anything like this, but we've done the training and we're ready."

On the other side of Oahu, the Aegis-class destroyer USS O'Kane left Pearl Harbor yesterday with the song "Taking Care of Business" blaring through its loudspeaker. The destroyer and its crew of 350 sailors and officers were headed to the Western Pacific on a mission that could include combat in the Persian Gulf.

Lt. Cmdr. Richard Riggs, the O'Kane's operations officer, missed the Gulf War in 1991 since he was enrolled at Oregon State University, working on his bachelor's degree as part of the Navy's enlisted commissioning program.

"Every deployment has its potential," said Riggs, a 16-year Navy veteran. "It's a hazardous job. ... You've got to be ready at all times."

Riggs noted that the O'Kane, which was commissioned at Pearl Harbor in 1999, is one of the Navy's newest warships. "We're ready to support the president and the country and do what we are called on to do."

The O'Kane left the islands on its maiden voyage on Aug. 1, 2001. It became part of the military's worldwide anti-terrorism effort after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The O'Kane primarily policed the Mediterranean, boarding and searching vessels for contraband being smuggled by Iraqis.

Chief Petty Officer Mary Pierce, who served on an oiler in the 1991 Gulf War, said this time it is a little different. She has a brother stationed on the East Coast whose ship has been called out, and that worries her mother, living in New Jersey.

"But this is something we choose to do," said Pierce, O'Kane's information systems officer, "to serve our country, and we will do the best we can."

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