FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – The storied 101st Airborne Division -- which parachuted at Normandy, fought on "Hamburger Hill" in Vietnam and played a crucial role in the Gulf War -- was ordered Thursday to deploy overseas.
The exact location and number of soldiers deploying was not disclosed. The 101st comprises about 20,000 soldiers.
The division -- along with its 270 helicopters -- will "support possible future operal war on terrorism," according to a statement from Fort Campbell, where the division is based.
The orders come as officials in Washington say the buildup of American forces in the Persian Gulf is accelerating, with two and possibly three more aircraft carriers likely to head toward the region in the next few days.
The deployment of the 101st was announced hours before President Bush urged the United Nations not to "back down" from Saddam Hussein and demanded quick action to disarm Iraq.
Pvt. Bryan Braddock, 22, of Manhattan, Kan., said Thursday's news came almost as relief. "Waiting is hard," he said. "It's one of those things you just want to know."
The number of American troops in the region stands at an estimated 113,000 -- nearly half in Kuwait, the main launch point for a U.S.-led ground invasion.
The Army said the 101st will deploy to the U.S. Central Command area of operations, which includes the Persian Gulf. U.S. forces have been assembling in the Gulf region since December.
"The president of the United States has made no decision about any future military operations," said Maj. Carl Purvis, a public affairs officer with the 101st. "These deployments are prudent steps to increase military capabilities and enhance flexibility."
The 101st played a key role in World War II, Vietnam and the Gulf War. Most recently, it hunted suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in the mountains of Afghanistan.
It is the Army's only air assault division, trained to rapidly deploy anywhere in the world within 36 hours.
The entire division -- then about 16,000-strong -- deployed to the Middle East in anticipation of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
On Jan. 17, 1991, fire from 101st Apache helicopters took out Iraqi radar sites at the start of the Gulf War. During the ground war, the 101st conducted sustained air assaults.
About 4,500 soldiers from the 101st's 3rd Brigade deployed to Afghanistan to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom, the war on terrorism. The soldiers, who returned in August after a six-month deployment, fought in Operation Anaconda, one of the fiercest battles in Afghanistan.
Purvis said the 101st will deploy by plane and by ship from Jacksonville, Fla.
On Wednesday, the 101st sent an undisclosed number of Black Hawk, Apache and Chinook helicopters to Jacksonville, for what it said was a training exercise. The helicopters were to be dismantled and placed on a ship as part of a readiness drill, officials said.
To many in and around Fort Campbell, the deployment order did not come as a surprise.
"They've been expecting this," said the Rev. Gerald Baker, a Catholic priest.
Baker was at Fort Campbell to deliver donations for families of four soldiers who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. A memorial service was held Wednesday for the four members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
He spoke of the anxieties of families of soldiers who deploy.
"There's the fear factor that's there," he said. "You have to tell them to have faith. You have to believe. An army wife, an army family, an army community -- you have to have faith. You have to pray."