US Army boats leave for Israel to build floating pier for food deliveries

  • U.S. Army boats departed from Virginia loaded with equipment and steel dock segments bound for Gaza, part of a U.S. initiative to provide aid to the Palestinians.
  • The ships are expected to cross the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
  • The delivery of aid involves the construction of a floating dock off the coast of Gaza, where aid containers will be unloaded.

Four U.S. Army boats, loaded with tons of equipment and segments of steel pillars, left Virginia on Tuesday, heading for Gaza, as part of U.S. efforts to increase the delivery of food and other supplies to starving Palestinians as Israel’s war against Hamas drags on.

The ships left the docks at Joint Base Langley-Eustis and headed down the James River toward the Atlantic Ocean for what could be a month-long journey to the Mediterranean Sea. There, in a yet-to-be-announced location along the Gaza coast, they will build and begin operating a floating dock to receive the aid.

Since Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, the Israeli army has struck the territory, killing more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry, and creating a humanitarian catastrophe. The UN says almost all of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are struggling to find food. But the delivery of humanitarian aid to the region has been difficult, due to ongoing hostilities and difficulties in coordinating with the Israeli army, which has blocked roads and slowed deliveries due to inspections.

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The Pentagon’s latest plan calls for the U.S. military to build what’s called a modular pavement system. Offshore, the military will build a large floating platform onto which ships can unload large containers of aid. Then the aid will be transferred by the military to a motorized chain of steel roadway sections that have been pushed to shore.

LLV Monterrey Soldiers from the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) prepare to deploy to the Gaza Strip March 12, 2024, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Virginia. (AP Photo/John C. Clark)

This pier is expected to be up to 1,800 feet long, with two lanes, and the Pentagon said it could enable the delivery of more than 2 million meals per day to Gaza residents. Authorities did not say who would unload the containers and transport the aid ashore. President Joe Biden has said there will be no U.S. troops on the ground in Gaza.

On Tuesday, as family members and senior Army commanders looked on, approximately 70 Soldiers from the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) pulled out of the docks aboard four U.S. Army ships: USAV Wilson Wharf, USAV Matamoros and USAV Monterrey, all Army landing craft, and the larger USAV SP4 James A. Loux, a logistics support craft.

Brigade commander Col. Sam Miller said about 500 of his soldiers would participate in the mission. In total, Pentagon officials said about 1,000 U.S. troops would be involved.

Calling the mission complicated, Miller said the transit would take about a month, but that would depend on weather and possible high seas. The actual construction, he said, will take about a week, but it could also be hampered by weather conditions. It will then take more time to coordinate the delivery process with those providing the aid and to get the system up and running. Defense officials said it would take about two months to start deliveries.

Israel will continue large-scale operations in Gaza for at least another month before scaling back the war

The Army’s ships and maritime capabilities are unique and less well-known than those of the Navy. The last time the 7th Transportation Brigade carried out a similar mission to build a large pier was in Haiti in 2010. But it has participated in a number of major military exercises.

“The Soldiers here are full of energy, they’re motivated, they’re excited,” Miller said, adding that the new humanitarian mission “gives them purpose and meaning” and highlights the Army’s watercraft. He noted that just 36 hours after Biden ordered the operation, the military’s first ship — USAV Gen. Frank S. Besson’s logistics ship — departed Joint Base Langley-Eustis on Saturday.

Miller said a larger Maritime Sealift Command ship will also leave Virginia in the coming days and will carry some of the larger equipment and more steel pier segments.

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