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March 2012

Ponce receiving refit for new role as AFSB(I)
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By James Marconi, MSC Public Affairs

USS Ponce
USS Ponce, seen here docked at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., postponed a scheduled decommissioning to be refitted as an Afloat Forward Staging Base. The vessel will be crewed in part by MSC civil service mariners. U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Nathanael Miller

Military Sealift Command civil service mariners will join forces with uniformed U.S. Navy personnel to crew USS Ponce, which is currently preparing for a new mission as an Afloat Forward Staging Base, destined for service in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, according to U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

Ponce, a long-serving Navy amphibious transport dock ship, had its scheduled 2012 decommissioning postponed as the ship is refitted for its new role. The ship will soon be re-designated as AFSB(I) 15 Ponce. The "I" stands for interim.

Although the ship will remain based at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., under the auspices of Commander Naval Surfaces Force, Atlantic, Ponce will deploy this summer to fulfill a long-standing request for an AFSB in USCENTCOM. Ponce will support mine counter-measure and coastal patrol ships, and aircraft operations. The ship will also have the capability to provide flexible support as needed for embarked detachments of personnel when requested by USCENTCOM and U.S. 5th Fleet.

The ship entered a commercial shipyard in February to conduct deferred maintenance and modifications for the CIVMAR crew to support the ship's new mission. Completion is scheduled for mid-April. Modifications include replacing bridge equipment with modern commercial systems for the CIVMARs who will navigate, operate and maintain the ship.

In addition, Ponce's main propulsion boilers will be overhauled; main and auxiliary condensers will be cleaned; additional overhauls will be made and maintenance performed on existing ship's equipment; and the galley will be upgraded and overhauled.

A Navy captain will continue to command Ponce, overseeing a crew that will comprise 55 Navy officers and sailors, a MSC civil service master and 148 other CIVMARs. This hybrid crewing structure is similar to MSC's other commissioned ships; two submarine tenders and the command ship USS Mount Whitney.

In early February, USFF released a request for Navy volunteers to crew the new AFSB - a great opportunity to be on the leading edge of a new program. The majority of the Navy crew billets will be filled with, but not limited to, information systems technicians, electronics technicians, fire controlmen, operations specialists, gunner's mates and seamen.

CIVMARs have an exciting opportunity to serve on this new platform.

"AFSB(I) 15 represents a particularly challenging mission for Military Sealift Command but we are well prepared," said MSC Deputy Commander, Rear Adm. Brian LaRoche. "The key to success remains exceptionally skilled civilian mariners with a strong desire to contribute directly to our national security. This is a terrific place for any civilian mariner seeking professional growth and adventure."