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More troops head for Persian Gulf

More troops from MacDill Air Force Base left for the Middle East Thursday to take command of the U.S. forces already in the Persian Gulf.

The 210 local soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, members of the U.S. Central Command's headquarters staff, will join 30 CentCom personnel already in the region to create a miniature CentCom headquarters, said Navy Capt. Bob Prucha, CentCom spokesman.

More than 27,000 American troops are in the Persian Gulf area to counter a possible threat from Iraqi forces near the Kuwaiti border, and more are on the way, Prucha said. Having a headquarters in the region will smooth communications and coordination with commanders at MacDill, he said. CentCom is responsible for the activities of all U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf and part of Africa.

An additional 192 personnel from the Joint Communications Support Element based at MacDill also already are in the Persian Gulf area, Prucha said.

Although Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has pulled many of his troops back and said he will recognize Kuwait as an independent nation, Prucha said it's still too early to consider the crisis over.

"He still has a lot of people within a couple of hours of the border," he said. "We still don't know exactly what he's going to do."

Military officials won't say exactly where the troops are going.

"We're just saying to the region. There are a lot of countries there who like to help us, but don't especially want it publicized," Prucha said.

"This is also good training. Part of our mission is to deploy, and we haven't done that in four years, since Desert Storm," he said.

Thursday's mission got off to a rather inauspicious start when the troops that had already boarded the chartered Tower Air 747 for its scheduled 9 a.m. departure were ordered off the plane because of a fueling delay.

It took more than an hour to sort out the problem, and the giant jetliner finally took off at 10:34 a.m., bound for Paris on the first leg of the 16-hour flight.

Training mission or not, Mary DiDomenico said she's just as nervous bidding her husband, John, good-bye this time as during the build-up to the Persian Gulf War.

"Hey, you never know what's going to happen. We all know (Hussein's) crazy, right?" she said.

Mary DiDomenico said her husband, a Marine, spent most of the day Wednesday with their daughter.

"She's not taking this too well," Mrs. DiDomenico said. "She wants to know when her daddy will be home, and we have to tell her we don't know."

"We expect these folks will be home within weeks, not months," said CentCom's Prucha. "We'll just have to get over there and see what happens."