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Thousands of local sailors and Marines are expected to remain deployed in the Middle East 

Seaman David Ndjongangbanen, assigned to the USS Bataan throws a mooring line as the ship pulls into Souda Bay, Crete. Jan. 20, 2024. Department of Defense
Seaman David Ndjongangbanen, assigned to the USS Bataan throws a mooring line as the ship pulls into Souda Bay, Crete. Jan. 20, 2024. Department of Defense

The drone attack against U.S. forces in Jordan that killed three U.S. soldiers and left roughly 40 others injured is likely to impact the Hampton Roads Marines and sailors in the region.

Beginning Friday, the U.S. targetted outposts of Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria. U.S. Central Command reported that on Saturday a coalition led by the U.S. attacked 36 sites in 13 locations in Yemen, controled by Houthi rebels, which have disrupted shipping in the area around the Red Sea, since war broke out in Gaza. 

As the U.S. tries to stop the conflict from widening in the region, the Hampton Roads-based Amphibious Ready Group, including Marines from Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, are expected to remain in the waters off of Israel beyond their six month deployment.

The Pentagon said roughly 4,000 Marines and sailors left Hampton Roads July 10, with more than 50 aircraft. Led by the USS Bataan, the ships include the USS Mesa Verde and USS Carter Hall and their contingent of Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. A normal deployment would be roughly six months, but U.S. forces in the region are on high alert.

It’s unclear when the ships will return. The ships replaced the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, which returned to Norfolk in mid-January. The Ford’s deployment was extended twice and stayed out for eight months, after being moved to the coast of Israel in October after war broke out in Gaza.

Before moving to the eastern Mediterranean, the Amphibious Ready Group was in the Red Sea, participating in the US-led effort to repel rocket and drone attacks by Houthi rebels based in Yemin. Before the war between Israel and Hamas, Marines attached to the USS Carter Hall were training in Kuwait.

“The sustained presence of a forward-deployed ARG/MEU demonstrates the inherent flexibility of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps to conduct operations whenever and wherever we choose, giving our nation and Allies flexibility in deterrence and defense options,” said a Navy spokesperson. 

The Marines are in a particular bind. They do not have enough ships available on the East Coast to relieve the Marines deployed to the Middle East. Overall, the Marines are down one ship after the USS Bonhomme Richard was destroyed by fire in 2020, while the ship was undergoing refurbishing in San Diego. 

Marines typically deploy for six months and return home for a year. In 2018, Gen. Robert Neller, at the time the commandant of the Marine Corps, discussed lowering the pace of deployments to as much as six months on and 18 months off, depending on the needs of the Corps. 

The USS Eisenhower left Norfolk in October and is now at the center of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an international coalition tasked with protecting commercial shipping in the Middle East.

Steve joined WHRO in 2023 to cover military and veterans. Steve has extensive experience covering the military and working in public media, most recently at KPBS in San Diego, WYIN in Gary, Indiana and WBEZ in Chicago. In the early 2000s, he embedded with members of the Indiana National Guard in Kuwait and Iraq. Steve reports for NPR’s American Homefront Project, a national public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Steve is also on the board of Military Reporters & Editors.

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