Farewell, Ponce, laserslinger of the Gulf
The USS Ponce, now over 40 years old and officially Afloat Force Service Base (Interim) AFSB(I), up until a few weeks ago served as a floating base for NSW, MCM, and other activities in the very warm standoff between the West and Iran in the Persian Gulf.
Ponce is among the Navy’s oldest ships. Construction began in 1966, and it was commissioned during the Nixon administration in 1971. Once an Austin-class amphibious transport dock, after 2012 she was hybrid civilian (MSC) and Navy crewed after she had been selected for decommissioning and began deactivation. This kept her in the Gulf with a fleet of Sea Dragon mine-sweeping choppers, random patrol boat crews (most of the Navy’s operational 170-foot Cyclone-class PCs are in the Gulf as well as a few Coast Guard 110’s), and unnamed special ops characters aboard.
She also packed a 30kW Laser Weapon System (LaWS) which drew a lot of attention.
Now, with her post assumed by the new and purpose-built USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3), Ponce has returned to the states and is preparing to decommission for good, slated for dismantling.
From the ship’s social media:
AFSB(I)-15 was the first ship to be fully realized and dedicated as an afloat forward staging base. The lessons learned from Ponce’s employment will be incorporated in future expeditionary sea bases to be built over the next 15 years. Its performance in this role will be used as a model for concepts and developments across the 30-year shipbuilding plan. Additionally, the ship and its crew provided unmatched UAV, minesweeping, multinational aircraft and amphibious support during TF 51/5-led missions.
Ponce was relieved in U.S 5th Fleet by the expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3), the first U.S. ship commissioned outside the United States and the first ship built specifically for the purpose of serving as an afloat, forward-staging base.
After over 46 years of honorable active service, the current crew comprised of Sailors and Civilian Mariners will complete the decommissioning process with the ceremony scheduled for Saturday, October 14th.
However, with her livewell, large helicopter deck, accomidations, fuel and provisions storage and Joint Operations Center with the best commo afloat, some argue she could get one last and very timely hurrah in Puerto Rico helping with the Hurricane Maria recovery effort.
Food for thought.