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Hampton Roads troops nearly ready to start delivering food aid to Gaza

U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the 7th Transportation Brigade and Sailors build pier off the shore of Gaza. April 26, 2024.
Department of Defense
U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the 7th Transportation Brigade and Sailors build pier off the shore of Gaza. April 26, 2024.

The Army’s 7th Transportation Brigade, with help from Navy support ships, has been assembling a dock 2 miles off the coast of Gaza.

The next step is for troops to ferry aid to a floating pier being anchored to the shore, said Salvatore Mercogliano, a former merchant mariner who teaches marine world history at Campbell University in North Carolina.

“Once all the assets are in place, it doesn't take long to do this. It's basically Lego blocks. Just the biggest Lego blocks you've ever seen,” said Mercogliano, who has worked with the system.

Crews from the Army boats based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis will remain busy, as the aid operation gets underway, he said.

“They're going to have to work on maintenance on the vessels. So this is going to be a grueling operation if it goes on for 90 days of full fledged movement of cargo,” he said.

Security is a major concern. The Israeli Army will provide security on shore. President Joe Biden has said no U.S. troop will be on the ground in Gaza, although they will operate the pier. There are still a number of safety variables, Mercogliano said.

“There will be U.S. military personnel close to the shore of Gaza. Then you're going to have U.S military contractors, potentially on the ground there, too. There's a lot of exposure here,” he said.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nation World Food Program have said they will distribute the aid.

The U.S. hopes to unload 90 truckloads of cargo a day, moving to 150 truckloads a day.

“It is nowhere near the scope and scale of the volume you can push through a land crossing but, if Israel isn't opening more land crossings, then this is more efficient (than dropping food by air),” Mercogliano said.

The flow of humanitarian assistance will also depend on weather conditions in the Eastern Mediterranean. U.S. Central Command has already said weather delayed the initial start of the operation.

Roughly 1,000 troops are involved in the operation, a majority are from Hampton Roads. The setup, called Joint Logistics Over The Shore (JLOTS), was used in Haiti in 2010 to provide extended food relief, after a hurricane.

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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