USS Wasp arrives in Crete, bringing 1,900 Marines

Some 4,000 US troops landed on the Mediterranean island of Crete yesterday as three US Navy ships comprising an «amphibious ready group» docked at the port facilities of the US naval base at Souda Bay, according to a US base official. The USS Wasp, one of the United States of America’s newest and largest amphibious assault ships and the group’s flagship, arrived at Souda Bay yesterday morning carrying 1,900 Marines of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and a crew of 1,100. On Sunday, the other two ships that make up the amphibious group arrived. These are the USS Trenton and the USS Oak Hill, which are used to transport landing craft, amphibious vehicles and helicopters. An additional 500 Marines are deployed on the USS Oak Hill, while the ships each have crews of 500 sailors. The ships came through the Strait of Gibraltar and are currently deployed in the Mediterranean under the command of the US Sixth Fleet. The Souda Bay port of call will last a couple of days. Commissioned in July 1989, the USS Wasp is 844 feet (253 meters) long and has a beam of 106 feet (31.8 meters). Its 900-foot-long deck supports 42 CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, five AV-8B Harrier attack planes and six ASW helicopters. The ship has medical facilities capable of providing intensive medical care to some 600 casualties. This is the second time that members of the 22nd MEU, currently aboard the USS Wasp, have landed in Crete, as some of them were assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Battan when it made a visit to the Mediterranean island back on January 2000. The Marine unit is «special operations capable (SOC),» meaning it has the ability and authorization to carry out missions that only special forces teams, such as the Delta Force, are assigned. The US naval base at Souda Bay is the last remaining US military base in Greece since the closure in the early 1990s of the two US Air Force bases, in Hellenikon near Athens and at Iraklion on Crete. The base includes the facilities of a long deep port, large enough to harbor most of the US Sixth Fleet, and an airfield outside the western Cretan city of Hania. Strategically located just 320 kilometers (200 miles) north of Libya, the base is on the front line of surveillance of North Africa, supporting navy EP-3 and air force RC-135 reconnaissance planes. The Souda Bay base had harbored for a couple of days from February 27, the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, the ship which last year on New Year’s Day was named the «Carrier of the New Millennium.» A day after leaving Crete, the pilot of an F-14 Tomcat died when the jet plunged into the Mediterranean Sea, 50 nautical miles (80 kilometers) south of the island. The fighter jet had just left the flight deck during a routine training exercise.

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