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January 2010

Commander's Perspective
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MSC Milestone: T-AFS class completes nearly five decades of service

USNS San Jose
MSC combat stores ship USNS San Jose is offloaded by crew members at U.S. Naval Base Guam. The ship visited the island for several days before heading to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where it will officially deactivate in January. U.S. Navy Photo by Jesse Leon Guerrero

Happy 2010, shipmates! I hope all of you had an enjoyable holiday season whether you were at sea with your MSC family or at home surrounded by loved ones. Even in these challenging economic times, we all have much to be thankful for, and I see positive signs for MSC in the coming year and beyond.

I personally am particularly thankful to have fallen in with the remarkable men and women of MSC who literally do our country's heavy lifting every day at sea around the world. You, and those who support you ashore, make it happen so reliably and seamlessly that you can easily be taken for granted.

Part of my aim in the coming year is to make sure your sacrifices and contributions are better understood by those who rely on your dedicated efforts. My New Year's resolution!

End of an era

This month marks the end of an era. After 46 years of service, the final crew will depart from the last combat stores ship to serve the Navy fleet. Before January is over, my Kings Point classmate Capt. Keith Walzak and his crew on USNS San Jose will have the honor of pulling fires for the last time, making the final deck log entry, and saying good-bye to the T-AFS class as their ship is deactivated and stricken from the Navy rolls.

For almost five decades, combat stores ships have been providing the food and supplies needed by Navy sailors and American embassies around the world. It all began in 1963 when USS Mars was commissioned and began delivering fresh and frozen food and repair parts to Navy combatants wherever they sailed. Mars was operated by Navy sailors and had six sister ships: USS Sylvania, commissioned in 1964; USS Niagara Falls, commissioned in 1967; USS Concord and USS White Plains, both commissioned in 1968; USS San Diego, commissioned in 1969; and USS San Jose, commissioned in 1970.

As the Navy expanded during the Reagan era, the demand for replenishment at sea increased, so the Navy purchased three Sirius-class ships from the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary in the early 1980s, complete with their bathtubs for officers and the padded leather bars in the messes. Military Sealift Command began operating the renamed USNS Sirius and USNS Spica with civil service mariner crews in 1981, followed by USNS Saturn in 1983. The next time you meet someone who served aboard Saturn, ask them about the "rubber ducky stop" for public tours.

By 1994, all the combat stores ships still in commission were operating with CIVMAR crews, serving the Navy on every ocean, providing food and supplies to sailors and Marines in peace time, during contingencies, in war time and for humanitarian missions.

From Vietnam to Libya; from Operation Desert Storm to Operation Iraqi Freedom - our combat stores ships and their dedicated crews have steamed in harm's way wherever the Navy has gone. Bosnia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Haiti... combat stores ships delivered.

Service with a smile

Growing up in the cruiser-destroyer Navy during my career, getting alongside the T-AFS for our monthly "hit" was always a greatly anticipated event, because it meant fresh milk, ice cream and no more brown lettuce and mushy tomatoes! It also meant the ship's store would have a fresh supply of "gedunk" - sodas, coffee and smokes - all those things that keep sailors going. San Jose and her sisters brought us a little bit of "home" whenever Romeo was closed up and the spanwire passed - no matter where we were sailing.

The exemplary service provided by combat stores ships and the lessons learned by their crews were prime reasons for our newest underway replenishment ships being designed from the keel up for operation by MSC and CIVMAR crews. The Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo/ammunition ships are the beginning of a new era as they take over the bulk of the replenishment at sea missions, incorporating many of the innovations suggested by you. The new ships are already making a positive impact in the fleet, but they've got a hard act to follow. There is no doubt in my mind that their ultimate success will be a result of the many T-AFS mariners who are now crewing up the T-AKEs.

Thanks for the memories

So, thanks to all of you T-AFS sailors out there. From Mars to San Jose, you delivered and wrote some great history for MSC in the process. As Captain Walzak and the last crew of the last T-AFS head down the gangway for the last time, I know that many of you will be right there with them in spirit - as well you ought to be.

Sail safe, and carry on!

Yours, aye,

Mark H. 'Buz' Buzby
Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy
Commander, Military Sealift Command