Protested Army ship leaves port

A military ship loaded with equipment belonging to a Fort Lewis combat brigade departed from the Port of Tacoma on Wednesday.

The departure of the USNS Soderman to the Middle East followed days of protests involving anti-war activists that resulted in 37 arrests, many involving people from the Olympia area.

Twenty-three people, including Olympia City Councilman TJ Johnson, were arrested Sunday on charges of criminal obstruction for crossing a barricade or bringing backpacks into the area when Tacoma police had barred them as a security measure.

Their arraignment is scheduled for today in Tacoma Municipal Court.

Activists had expected the military equipment to be loaded at the Port of Olympia, and they had to respond quickly when they learned that military convoys instead were headed to Tacoma on March 3.

“However, considering that, I think that the actions that did occur were very successful. ... I feel good about what we achieved, and a primary goal is to provide a model for other communities, and I think we provided a strong one,” said Sandy Mayes, a co-founder of Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, which organized the protests with Tacoma Port Militarization Resistance.

Mayes was among those arrested Sunday.

In May, similar protests at the Port of Olympia resulted in nearly 40 arrests.

Representatives of the law enforcement agencies that provided security were happy people were able to voice their opinions, but they were troubled by those who came solely looking to start trouble, said Detective Brad Graham, spokesman for the Tacoma Police Department.

“Certainly, we wish nobody needed to be arrested,” he said.

The Washington State Patrol and law enforcement agencies from King, Pierce and Thurston counties secured the military equipment at a Port of Tacoma holding area and as it moved to the ship, Graham said.

The number of personnel providing security ranged from about 100 to 175, he added. The cost of providing that security is not yet known.

The ship is carrying equipment from the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which will deploy a month early as part of the White House strategy to deploy 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq.

The deployment ceremony was held Monday at Fort Lewis.

The soldiers will fly to Kuwait, and they should all have left Fort Lewis by mid-April, said Erin Benson, a Fort Lewis spokeswoman.

“It takes about one to two weeks for the entire brigade to ship out,” she said.

They will spend several weeks in Kuwait unloading and preparing equipment before entering Iraq, Benson said. The brigade will be based in Baghdad, joining another Fort Lewis-based combat brigade.