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4,000 sailors, Marines deploy overseas

MAYPORT, Fla. – More than 4,000 Marines and sailors deployed Thursday Naval Station Mayport on a joint overseas mission.

The public affairs officers for the USS Iwo Jima couldn't go into much detail on their mission, but said it's a huge collaboration between the Navy and the Marine Corps.

"The Amphibious Ready Group is comprised of the three ships: an LHD, the largest, the Iwo Jima; an LPD, the medium, which is the USS New York; and the LSD the USS Fort McHenry," said Lt. Junior Grade Lily Hinz.

The Iwo Jima and New York left Thursday, and the Fort McHenry will leave Friday.

Hinz said those three ships, alongside a marine unit out of Camp Lejeune North Carolina, will all deploy this week. The four are heading to Europe and the Middle East for a scheduled seven-month deployment.

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"I can't talk about the specific units we will be executing, but we're very flexible and ready force, so it could change quickly," Hinz said. "Long story short, we're doing maritime security operations."

Hinz said these missions are a collaboration between the Navy and Marine Corps that provide timely worldwide response to natural disasters and crises overseas. She said they will be very flexible on their missions for the next seven months, saying they have to be ready for change at any moment.

"We're really excited about this deployment," Hinz said. "We've trained for a long time and had several training exercises this fall. We haven't been in port much, but we think it will be well worth it after all this training and preparation we've done."

The Navy's three ships will deploy with nearly 2,000 sailors and marines on board -- 1,000 on the USS Iwo Jima and about 500 on each the USS New York and the USS Fort McHenry. About 2,000 Marines from a base in North Carolina will be joining the sailors for the deployment.

It was tough for families saying goodbye Thursday, and they said the holidays make it even more difficult.

For some it's a way of life, but others like wives and mothers say it's always hard, particularly at Christmas time.

"We can always celebrate when he gets back," said Tina Johnson. "It is a little emotional, but this is his job and that's what he signed for."