WASHINGTON – The Navy is loading everything from bombs to junk food onto ships on the East Coast. Helicopter pilots are getting their personal affairs in order in Mississippi. Some infantrymen have already packed their rucksacks in Georgia.
Across the country, thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen are readying for possible war with Iraq under an array of orders to mobilize, to deploy, to prepare to deploy and so on.
"You are seeing a continual, gradual buildup," said Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman.
Here are some questions and answers about military preparations being made for the war President Bush has said he may or may not wage.
Q. How many service members have been called?
A. Just before Christmas, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered the services to deploy tens of thousands of military men and women with skills that would be needed for a campaign against Saddam Hussein, leaving it to the individual services to select and prepare the appropriate units.
Pentagon spokesmen declined to say the exact number ordered -- and which units will go -- though it is expected to eventually grow to more than 50,000, more than doubling the roughly 50,000 already serving in the region, one official said on condition of anonymity. At least 14,000 individuals have deployment orders so far.
Q. Who are they?
A. The U.S. Army in Germany announced Thursday that it was sending 800 engineering and intelligence specialists to the Persian Gulf.
Troops at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas, on Thursday loaded equipment for shipment to the region, where they were expected to arrive in the next few weeks. About 300 Patriot air defense troops from the base are to be deployed to help defend U.S. and allied forces in Kuwait and elsewhere from attack by Iraqi Scud missiles.
Others known to have deployment orders include:
--Some 12,000 troops of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) from bases in Georgia.
--The Navy's 1,000-bed hospital ship USNS Comfort.
--Five U.S.-based Air Force combat wings, with fighter jets, Predator drones, cargo planes, rescue helicopters and so on.
The announced deployments are only the tip of the iceberg. Others on active duty have been told to prepare to deploy but have not been served deployment notices. Some National Guard and reserves have been given alert notifications, meaning they have been told they may be called to active duty, in which case they could then be called to duty, then deployed, officials said.
Q. How are troops preparing?
A. On the Comfort, service members tested medical equipment and laid in stocks of foodstuffs -- and boxes of cigarettes, Coke and M&Ms. With a crew of 225 Navy personnel and 61 civilian medical staffers, the Comfort is to leave Baltimore on Monday. More doctors will be flown over if there is a war, officials said.
The amphibious assault ship USS Saipan and the amphibious transport dock USS Ponce -- though not yet ordered to deploy -- left Norfolk on Tuesday for New Jersey to get ammunition. They were to return to Norfolk to be ready in case their amphibious ready group gets deployment orders.
Around the country, soldiers are making sure they have updated wills, attending briefings and getting weapons, uniforms and chemical warfare gear, officials said.
Fort Stewart, Ga., spokeswoman Dina McKain said commanders tried to give soldiers as much time off with their families as possible over the holidays. Remaining preparations will come soon enough.
Army National Guard helicopter pilots in Tupelo, Miss., have received orders to mobilize -- that is, report for active duty. They will go through their mobilization checklist, which includes getting health checks and making sure family paperwork is current, said Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Tim Powell.
"On a personnel level, they're making sure that everything at home is in order," Powell said.
Families also get briefings, as do employers of reserves called away from their civilian jobs.
Q. Where will the forces be deployed?
A. They are to join U.S. forces who have been deploying in a steady stream for months. Americans operate from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other countries near Iraq. The Comfort as well as B-2 and other bombers are expected to go to the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.
The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which recently left the Gulf en route to its home port at Everett, Wash., is being held in the western Pacific for the time being in case Rumsfeld decides additional carriers are needed for war against Iraq.
The USS George Washington, which returned home to Norfolk, Va., from the Mediterranean Sea shortly before Christmas, has been notified that it could be sent back into service in coming days, the officials said.
The carrier USS Constellation is now in the Gulf, and the USS Harry S. Truman is in the Mediterranean.