NORFOLK--As the crisis in Iraq grows, so does the U.S. Navy fleet in the Persian Gulf.

According to the U.S. Naval Institute, the Norfolk-based USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group is now in place in the Persian Gulf, bringing the number of American warships in the region to nine.

The Bataan ARG includes the amphibious transport dock USS Mesa Verde and the amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall.

'And together we all bring Marines and we all bring Marine equipment,' said Gunston Hall Commanding Officer, Captain Timothy Kuehhas on deployment day. ' So that gives us the capability to do things around the globe to keep sea lanes open, if there's a country that requires our assistance. We're ready, we're on station to lend that assistance.'

The ARG, its 3,000 sailors and 1,00 members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. left Naval Station Norfolk and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek on February 8 for what was billed as an 8-month deployment.

An amphibious assault ship like the Bataan is an ideal platform for evacuation and humanitarian missions.

With its compliment of MH-53 and MH-60 helicopters, MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft and an armada of Landing Craft Air Cushion vessels, they can move a lot of people in a hurry. Such vessels also come equipped with 600-bed hospitals, which could clearly come in handy in a crisis.

Back in May, the Bataan Group was temporarily stationed off Libya as tensions mounted in that North African nation.

Other Norfolk based ships currently on station in the Persian Gulf include the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush and the guided missile destroyers USS Truxtun and the USS Arleigh Burke.

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