The USS Ponce (LPD-15) was launched on 20 May 1970. It was last in action off of the coast of Libya and was a member of the ARG-MEU, which was part of the transformation evident in the air operations off the shores of Tripoli.
She faced the end of her service life and came home to await decommissiong on 30 March 2012. Indeed, the process was started and about 20% of the process completed, when Sec Def Panetta decided on another course of action.
In response to demands from the Middle East associated with Iranian threats to place mines in the Gulf of Hormuz, the Ponce was to find a new role.
Its fountain of youth was the Military Sealift Command.
On 24 January 2012, the Military Sealift Command posted a bid request to retrofit the USS Ponce to make it a “mothership” for helos and smaller high-speed boats. By mid-April 2012, the Ponce was being prepared for its new role.
If anything was needed to demonstrate the ability of the MSC to contract effectively and to support the USN-USMC team’s global mission, this performance certainly was it. The mother ship will perform a “lilypad” role for the MH-53 helicopters in a mine-clearance role, as well as for other assets.
In a comprehensive interview with Second Line of Defense on April 13, 2012, Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, Commander of the MSC, underscored the performance of MSC to meet the USN-USMC needs. The full interview will be published soon on Second Line of Defense.
Admiral Harvey, Commander Fleet Forces Command, asked Admiral Buzby: “Can your mariners operate the Ponce as an afloat operating base?”
And Admiral Buzby commented: “Although we don’t have a forward operating base in MSC, operating a steam ship which has a flight deck, which has a well deck we can operate that. And under the authorities which I have in MSC, I can refurbish the ship as well. I can do that very quickly for you. I can give you high value for the dollar. I can deliver that capability quickly. And my mariners along with USN personnel can execute the mission. I can probably give you that capability faster than anyone else.
USS PONCE is the 12th and last ship in the AUSTIN – class of Amphibious Transport Docks. The ship is named after the city in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, named after the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, discoverer of Florida, first governor of Puerto Rico. The PONCE was originally scheduled to be decommissioned on March 30, 2012, however, decommissioning was cancelled and the ship will now be converted to an Afloat Forward Staging Base to support MH-53 helicopters and patrol craft. She will be jointly operated by a MSC/Navy crew.