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U.S. ship heads on Syria chemical weapons destruction mission

The U.S. vessel Cape Ray is heading out this afternoon on its mission to destroy Syrian chemical weapons at sea, carrying 63 Defense civilians, 35 crew members, and a Navy security squad. 

Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: Navy medic killed after wounding 2 sailors in Maryland shooting | Dems push Biden for limits on military gear transferred to police | First day of talks on Iran deal 'constructive' 140 national security leaders call for 9/11-style panel to review Jan. 6 attack Trump Afghan pullout deal unachievable, says ex-Pentagon leader MORE thanked the ship’s crew in a letter read by the ship’s captain on Sunday.  

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“You’re about to accomplish something no one has tried — destroying at sea one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons and helping make a safer world,” Hagel wrote. 

“You all know your task will not be easy, your days will be long, and rigorous. Your hard work, dedication and preparation will make the difference,” he said. 

The mission is expected take as many as nine months, as two hydrolysis units on the ship neutralize hundreds of tons of chemical weapons at sea. 

The ship will arrive at the Italian port Gioia Tauro in approximately two to three weeks, and be loaded with chemical weapons before heading out to the Mediterranean Sea, where the destruction will take place.