Anti-war demonstrators protest military ship unloading in Olympia

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Anti-war protests have returned to the Port of Olympia with the unloading of a military ship bearing Army gear from a Stryker Brigade that recently returned to nearby Fort Lewis from Iraq.

About 60 protesters gathered on the Fourth Avenue bridge late Monday and held signs reading, "In Our Port" and "Bring Em All Home" in view of the USS Brittin. No arrests were reported.

According to an initial news release Sunday from Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, the group at first did not plan to try to block cargo from being sent from the port to the Army post but would only use the occasion to promote the anti-war effort.

Late Monday, however, after the arrival of 950-foot roll-on, roll-off cargo vessel, group leaders said a series of votes and discussions resulted in a change in strategy.

"As long as the war in Iraq is going on, it's all part of the revolving door," said Andrew Yankey, a member of the group. "They're just shipping it in so they can ship it back out," resulting in more deaths of U.S. military personnel and Iraqi civilians.

The Brittin was used to haul the gear of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), which recently completed a 15-month assignment in Iraq.

Nearly 40 people were arrested at the port during protests in late May 2006 when the same unit's equipment was loaded onto a ship bound for the Middle East. All charges were dropped because of document-handling problems and errors by prosecutors and sheriff's deputies.

Last week, Port Commission President Paul Telford contacted two peace activists, City Council member TJ Johnson and Lawrence Mosqueda, a professor at The Evergreen State College, to inform them of the impending arrival of the Brittin and to seek their aid in avoiding trouble this time.

A private security firm has been hired, Telford added.

"While we know that there are strong feelings in our community about the war in Iraq, we hope any demonstrations while the vessel or cargo are at the port will continue the spirit of the homecoming (for the soldiers) and be peaceful," Telford said in a news release.