USS Ponce (LPD-15)
|Namesake:||Ponce, Puerto Rico, City in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico|
|Ordered:||17 May 1965|
|Laid down:||31 October 1966|
|Launched:||20 May 1970|
|Commissioned:||10 July 1971|
|Class & type:||Austin-class amphibious transport dock|
|Displacement:||8883 tons light, 16591 tons full, 7708 tons dead|
|Length:||173.7 meters (570 ft) overall, 167 meters (548 ft) waterline|
|Beam:||30.4 meters (100 ft) extreme, 25.6 meters (84 ft) waterline|
|Draft:||6.7 meters (22 ft) maximum, 7 meters (23 ft) limit|
|Speed:||20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)|
|Complement:||29 officers, 487 men|
|Armament:||• 8 × .50 caliber gun mounts
• 2 x 20 mm Phalanx CIWS
• 2 x 25 mm Mk 38 Mod 2
• Unnamed military laser weapon
USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15), an Austin-class amphibious transport dock, is the only ship of the United States Navy that is named for Ponce in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which in turn was named after the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, the first governor of Puerto Rico and European discoverer of Florida.
Her keel was laid down on 31 October 1966 by the Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company of Seattle, Washington. She was launched on 20 May 1970 sponsored by Mrs. John J. Hyland, and commissioned on 10 July 1971.
The Ponce has been used as a testbed for new applications including Afloat Forward Staging Base and the Laser Weapon System.
1980s and 1990s 
On 2 February 1982 during a towing exercise while en route to Portsmouth, England, Ponce collided with USS Fort Snelling (LSD-30), causing minor damage to Ponce's port side, mainly to the accommodation ladder and flight deck catwalk.
On 14 February 1984, while attempting to move an assault craft to Radio Island, near Morehead City, North Carolina, Ponce suffered a major casualty when her stern gate was damaged and eventually lost. She was later repaired in Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
On 5 August 1990 as part of Operation Sharp Edge to remove US citizens caught in civil war in Liberia, Ponce, together with Saipan (LHA-2), Sumter (LST-1181), and Peterson (DD-969), inserted a United States Marine Corps reinforced rifle company into the U.S. Embassy compound in Monrovia for increased security.
In 1991 June -December Ponce completed a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, and was part of Operation Desert Shield and supported Operation Desert Storm.
In the first half of 1992, Ponce completed a four-month maintenance availability in Norfolk. In June she took on midshipmen for a training cruise off the Virginia Capes, which earned her the "CORTRAMID '92 Surface Warrior of the Week". In September she arrived in Miami for Hurricane Andrew relief efforts. In October she commenced counter drug operations in the Caribbean with a USCG Law Enforcement Detachment on board.
On 17 March 1993 the Ponce departed on a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in support of Operations “Deny Flight” and “Provide Promise”. She was accompanied by the USS Saipan and USS Pensacola. During the deployment she operated bilaterally with Greek units in exercise "Alexandros '93" and conducted amphibious landing exercises with the Tunisians in "Phiblex '93".
On 29 August 2001 Ponce crewmembers boarded two derelict Italian boats, a 19-foot motorboat and a 12-foot sailboat, in the Straits of Messina between Sicily and Calabria. The civilian vessels were adrift, creating a navigational hazard. A boarding party in a rigid hull inflatable boat found both derelicts unmanned, though the motorboat was well stocked. They towed both boats back to Ponce, which flooded her welldeck, brought the boats aboard, carried them into Catania, and turned them over to the Guardia Costiera (Italian Coast Guard).
On 10 January 2003 Ponce received orders to depart Norfolk, Virginia, and take on Marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That duty kept Ponce at sea through February. At the end of February, she became the flagship of the Commander of Mine Countermeasure Squadron Three, designated as Commander, Task Group 55.4. The Task Group included a US Navy special clearance team, two explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) units, a detachment of MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters from Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron FOURTEEN (HM-14), a United Kingdom unit and an Australian team. The ships involved included the mine coastal hunters USS Cardinal (MHC-60) and Raven (MHC-61), mine counter measure ships Ardent (MCM-12) and Dextrous (MCM-13), and dock landing ship Gunston Hall (LSD-44).
After breaking the Squadron's pennant at her yardarm, Ponce's crew (and Gunston Hall's) enjoyed liberty ashore in Manama, Bahrain, beginning on 28 February. On 5 March, however, the amphibious ships got underway again. Humanitarian aid to Iraq was being blocked by naval mines in the Khawr Abd Allah river and the port of Umm Qasr. The weeks-long minesweeping operation was directed from Ponce, the flagship of the Task Group.
The Group used a variety of methods, including MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters towing magnetic minesweeping sleds, trained marine mammals, unmanned underwater vehicles and EOD divers. On 28 March a 200-yard-wide channel was declared safe, and RFA Sir Galahad (L3005) docked at Umm Qasr Port and began offloading hundreds of tons of food and water. Work continued for weeks after that, widening the channel.
On 25 March 2005, Ponce again departed Norfolk, deploying with the Kearsarge Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) for six months. Following a port visit to Augusta Bay, Sicily, Ponce spent three months in the Persian Gulf conducting operations in support of the global War on Terrorism. While in the Gulf, she made port visits to Bahrain and Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates. Ponce departed the Gulf in August 2005. On 19 August, Ponce was in the Gulf of Aqaba awaiting the underway movement of the USS Ashland to allow the USS Ponce to dock pier side. While the USS Ashland was in the process the Katyusha rocket attack occurred on the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) and Ashland Ponce remained in the Gulf for over a week in response to the attack. Ponce conducted port visits to Malta and Rota, Spain, before returning to Norfolk on 27 September.
Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet (C6F) relieved the commanding officer and executive officer of Ponce on 23 April 2011. As a result of a hazing inquiry, Vice Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., relieved Cmdr. Etta Jones, Ponce's commanding officer, due to demonstrated poor leadership, and failure to appropriately investigate, report, and hold accountable sailors found involved in hazing incidents. Additionally, she failed to properly handle a loaded weapon during a security alert which endangered some of her ship's crew. The relief of the executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Kurt Boenisch, was attributed to failure to provide support to the command and to his commanding officer.
On 26 October 2011, Ponce began a three-week tour which would take her to Port Canaveral, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and her namesake city of Ponce, Puerto Rico. Upon her return to Norfolk, in December 2011, she was to begin the process of decommissioning.
On 2 December 2011, Ponce came home to await decommissioning on 30 March 2012, when she would be towed to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Naval Shipyard and be placed with the mothball fleet, likely to await being sold for scrap in consideration of her age and accumulation of rust; however a contract was let for a rush retrofit for the ship to be re-deployed as the first of a planned series of mine-countermeasures warships for use in keeping open strategic sea lanes.
On 29 October 2012, Ponce rescued seven Bahraini fishermen whose vessel was foundering in a hailstorm.
Afloat Forward Staging Base, Interim (AFSB-I) 
On 24 January 2012, the Military Sealift Command posted a bid request to retrofit the USS Ponce on a rush-order basis. In response to requests from United States Central Command, the ship was converted to a staging base for mine countermeasures helicopters and ships/boats. The ship was expected to be completely transformed in an estimated four to five months, and the target date for re-deployment to her new role was met. The ship is operated jointly by active-duty Navy officers and sailors, as well as being crewed by government civilian mariners from Military Sealift Command --- some of whom, on her initial cruise in her new role, were more than 60 years old. The USS Ponce was modified as an Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) to support mine-sweeping MH-53 Sea Dragon helicopters and small mine-clearance vessels. MSC issued requests for proposal to upgrade and refit the ship. The work included upgrading the ship’s navigation systems, bringing habitability up to MSC standards and general refurbishment. The Ponce was designated as AFSB(I) 15 ("I" for the interim nature of the ship in this role, until purpose-built vessels come on line in 2015). The ship is now in the Persian Gulf to serve as the Pentagon's first floating staging base for military operations or humanitarian assistance.
It was later reported that despite the capability to do so, the Ponce would not be a mothership for special operations, but rather a "lilypad" for MH-53 helicopters in a mine-clearance role, as well as for patrol and mine-clearance craft. As Admiral John Harvey stated, “The topic was a hot one, and people read these” documents “we generate very closely. I think they put two and two together and got 22."
In 2013 the USS Ponce functioned as the operational center and HQ for the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise in the Persian Gulf, using the berthing designed for transporting marines in order to function as a floating "hotel" for the operation.
Laser weapon testbed 
The Ponce is reported to become a testbed platform for the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), with installation of a prototype weapon system to be completed "sometime after October 2013".  The weapon system is said to be effective against drones and small watercraft.
The Ponce will deploy with the laser weapon in 2014.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: USS Ponce (LPD-15)|
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (August 2009)|
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
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