The U.S. military is going to Gaza, hoping to deliver food from a football-field-sized floating dock

The mobile dock can deliver up to 2 million meals a day, but key questions about the mission remain unanswered.

By Steve Walsh, American Homefront ProjectApril 1, 2024 11:30 am

From the American Homefront Project:

Less than two days after President Joe Biden announced in his State of the Union Address that the U.S. would ferry food aid to Gaza, Army vessels from the 7th Transportation Brigade began leaving the dock at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

When the last boats cast off, there were still large, unanswered questions about the military-led effort.

“This is the U.S. Army watercraft’s moment, and we are up for it,” said Colonel Sam Miller, the commander of the unit. “The U.S. and the world will see our humanitarian capability on display and in action forward.”

It will take the small, flat-bottomed Army boats a month to reach the Eastern Mediterranean. President Biden promised to have the operation running by early May.

“I’m primarily focused on our capabilities getting out of here and then getting there and getting this built,” Miller said, “and then they’ll give me further orders from there.”

The Navy is bringing a football-field-sized floating dock to be be assembled three miles out at sea. The larger Navy ships en route to Gaza can cross the Atlantic in half the time of smaller Army boats.

Naval Beach Group 2, based in Coronado, California, will bring 260 sailors. The operation will be directed by the Army, which plans to have 500 soldiers in the waters off Gaza.

Navy ships – and potentially vessels from non-governmental organizations – will bring supplies onto the floating dock. Trucks can then drive onto barges that will take them to the shore, where a pier will have to be erected.

The Army has built mobile piers since World War II, when they were island-hopping in the Pacific with the Navy and Marines. The U.S. military also built something similar for a relief effort following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, but that wasn’t a potential war zone.

Soldiers from the 7th Transportation Battalion load a boarding ramp on a vessel at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 12. The unit is headed to the Mediterranean Sea as part of U.S. humanitarian efforts in Gaza.
Jack LeGrand / U.S. Air Force

The Army and Navy units are trained for rapid response, though it will be weeks before they can deliver the first pallet of food to Gaza.

“We have quite a few different entities, different personnel, and we are working 24/7 to ensure we can get there as quickly as possible to assist,” said Major Katie Keller with the Army Military Service Deployment and Distribution Command.

A bipartisan group of members of Congress has urged the White House to provide more details about the operation before the equipment arrives in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Army and Navy officials agree that more specific plans will need to be in place before they can begin supplying food to Gaza.

President Biden has said that no U.S. troops will set foot in Gaza. The U.S. is trying to line up a private contractor to anchor the pier to the beach, then set up a distribution hub for the aid supplies.

“I’ll start by saying this: Our number one priority for every deployment is the protection of our soldiers,” said Army Brigadier General Brad Hinson, Commander of 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, based at Fort Liberty, N.C. – the base formerly known as Fort Bragg.

The cargo will have to be inspected before it reaches the floating offshore dock, and the empty containers will have to be inspected again before they can be returned.

“This is a plan that’s being laid out right now in close cooperation with Israel and with the Army as well,” said Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro. “So I have every confidence that we will be providing the security that will be necessary to protect our sailors, while at the same time provide the international community that really needs to come to the help of Gaza.”

The Biden Administration also continues to push for an agreement between Israel and Hamas that leads to a ceasefire, the release of hostages being held by Hamas, and more humanitarian aid deliveries.

“Obviously a ceasefire would be welcome in Gaza in order to be able to bring humanitarian aid to the beach in a more successful manner,” Del Toro said.

The U.S. Air Force has airdropped more than 35,000 meals and 31,000 bottles of water into northern Gaza. The Army estimates a mobile pier operation would allow the U.S. to bring in two million meals a day.

Tim Hoffine of Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) told NPR that hunger is already widespread, and famine is imminent in the Gaza region. FEWS NET is funded through the State Department’s United States Agency for International Development and analyzes data on hunger levels around the world.

This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans.