Despite its downgrade to a Category 4 storm, the National Hurricane Center said Friday that the storm remained "extremely dangerous" with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour and was expected to hit the Florida mainland early Sunday as a "major" and "life-threatening" hurricane.
This follows a deployment of helicopters Thursday from the USS Wasp amphibious warship to assist with damage assessment and medical evacuations from St. Thomas and St. Croix in the Caribbean, which were struck by Irma earlier this week.
U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Admiral Phil Davidson, ordered the ships to get underway to be in position to provide humanitarian relief for Hurricane Irma, in of support federal, state and local authorities if requested.
Marines and Sailors with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, II Marine Expeditionary Force are embarked aboard USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) and USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) as part of prudent preparatory measures in anticipation of future tasking to support relief efforts. The Kearsarge and Oak Hill were expected to reach the area sometime Friday, a Navy official said.
Between the two ships, U.S. Marine Corps aviation assets include five MV-22B Ospreys, six CH-53E Super Stallions and three UH-1Y Hueys.
Navy warships and submarines from Florida and Georgia were also put out to sea to ride out the storm.
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The large carrier deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln would also provide deck space to launch continuous helicopter operations to and from shore should they be needed to assist in recovery operations after the storm.
And as the storm closes in on Florida, numerous U.S. military bases in the region were preparing to evacuate their personnel and equipment.
Northcom is developing logistics support solutions and has identified incident support bases at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Warner Robbins Air Force Base, Georgia, to support response operations.
The Air Force on Friday was moving aircraft out of the storm's path. Officials said 50 F-16 fighter jets from Shaw Air Force Base in SC were being evacuated.
Pentagon officials said Friday that they anticipated the military's response to Irma could grow larger than its mobilization in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which hit coastal Texas on August 25 as a Category 4 storm and dropped more than 50 inches of rain on the region.
In Texas, active-duty service members continue to conduct a wide array of support missions.