US PIER OFF GAZA COAST (Reuters) - Baking under the summer sun, U.S. troops find shelter in containers stationed on what is known as the "parking lot" of a floating pier in the Mediterranean Sea that aims to boost the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

Just over the horizon, destroyed buildings and thick black smoke can be seen rising in the enclave of 2.3 million people, more than eight months into a war between Israel and Palestinian militants Hamas.

Reuters was given rare access to the pier on Tuesday and saw aid pallets being moved from a vessel onto the 1,200-foot (370- m)-long pier as it bobbed around with the incoming waves. The pallets were then taken by trucks to the coast.

For U.S. Army Sergeant Ibrahim Barry, who is a forklift operator on the pier, the operation is personal. Barry, who is Muslim, was in the U.S. when war broke out and watched as families in Gaza during Ramadan in March and April had no food with which to break their fast.

"Being in this mission (is) on a personal level for me," he said. "Helping to help them get food... just taking care of people."

U.S. President Joe Biden announced in March the plan to put the pier in place for aid deliveries as famine loomed in Gaza. As of Tuesday, 8,332 pallets had been delivered via the pier.

But nearly 6,900 pallets of those have just been sitting on Gaza's coast, in a marshalling area, waiting to be picked up by the United Nations for distribution. The World Food Programme paused deliveries earlier this month over security concerns.

For many troops working on pier operations, this is their first combat zone. Not for Captain Joel Stewart, commander of Naval Beach group 1.

"War is a terrible thing. I don't care where it is. I don't care what it is. It is destruction. It is never pretty. It is certainly not something that I ever want to see again," Stewart said while standing on the pier.

"The sailors, marines, merchant men, soldiers are all behind this mission because they see they are making a difference for the people of Gaza," Stewart said.

The pier's usage has been paused multiple times because of sea conditions and at one point was towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod for repairs.

A senior U.S. official said on Tuesday the pier may be extended well beyond its July 31 authorization date if the United States and aid organizations can get aid flowing again to Palestinians in the coming days and weeks.

(Reporting by Nathan Frandino from U.S. military pier off Gaza's coast; Writing by Idrees Ali; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

By Nathan Frandino