The Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen has begun receiving military equipment bound for Iraq, and war protesters, including some from South Sound, are expected to head to the area.
More than 600 soldiers assigned to the 4th Squadron, 6th U.S. Cavalry will deploy from Fort Lewis in the coming weeks. Helicopters assigned to the squadron began flying into the port this week.
It is the third local port that the Army has used to ship equipment belonging to a major Fort Lewis unit to Iraq in the past year. People protested using the public ports for what they call an illegal and immoral war in May 2006 at Port of Olympia and in March at Port of Tacoma. About 80 people were arrested during protests at both ports.
Trey Smith of Aberdeen, treasurer of the Green Party of Washington State, said the Army chose to move equipment out of the smaller community to avoid protests and publicity.
“They (protesters in Olympia and Tacoma) were so effective, they moved it here,” Smith said.
Joe Hitt, a Fort Lewis spokesman, said the earlier protests had no bearing on the decision to move the equipment out of Grays Harbor.
“It was selected because of its availability,” he said. “We’ve used the port in the past. We’ve used the Everett port before. This is not unique.”
Olympia Port Militarization Resistance met Wednesday night to discuss how to respond to the Army’s use of the neighboring port. The group invited activists from Aberdeen to participate.
“We are planning to do something,” said Jeffery Berryhill, a group member arrested in the two earlier protests.
Smith said he expected the protests to include Aberdeen residents as well as people from Olympia and Tacoma.
Aberdeen police and port officials have designated an area for public assembly across the street from the port’s loading area.
“We firmly believe that people have a right to protest,” Aberdeen police Capt. Dave Johnson said. “We’ll make every provision for them to protest, but we also don’t want them to commit crimes while they’re protesting.”
The 4-6 squadron was attached to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment when it moved to Fort Lewis from Fort Polk, La., in 2005. The regiment converted into a Stryker combat brigade and was redesignated the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division last summer as part of an Army-wide reorganization. The air cavalry squadron became its own unit.
The Stryker brigade recently deployed to Iraq for a 15-month tour. It shipped its equipment from the Port of Tacoma, drawing protesters.
Previously, protesters demonstrated at the Port of Olympia when equipment belonging to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, another Stryker combat brigade based at Fort Lewis, was shipped to the Mideast. That brigade is expected to come home in October.
Nearly 40 people were arrested during the 10 days of protests nearly a year ago. Sixteen await a new trial for allegedly trespassing on port property May 30. The judge declared a mistrial during the first proceeding in March.