USS Ponce Operates Forward: One Year Later

By Capt. Jon P. Rodgers
Commanding officer, USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15)

120920-N-ZZ999-008

Representatives from 41 nations have gathered in the Arabian Gulf for International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2013.

Similar to last year, participants will exercise the afloat staging base concept aboard USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) and RFA Cardigan Bay (L3009), and will cover surface mine countermeasures, mine hunting and airborne mine countermeasures operations, international explosive ordnance disposal training, diving operations, small-boat exercises, unmanned aerial vehicle operations, unmanned underwater vehicle operations and port clearance operations. Ponce made many global acquaintances during IMCMEX 2012.

USS Ponce (AFSB (I)-15) gets underway during International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2013. An unmanned underwater vehicle (foreground) prepares to submerge. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Gay/Released)

USS Ponce (AFSB (I)-15) gets underway during International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2013. An unmanned underwater vehicle (foreground) prepares to submerge. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Gay/Released)

With IMCMEX 2013 underway, I hope this blog connects our partner friends, share thoughts and answer any questions about The Proud Lion’s new life as the Navy’s first dedicated afloat forward staging base.

IMCMEX 2012 was a real treat for Ponce’s crew because we met so many people from different cultures and worked with their technologies and equipment. We also exchanged thoughts on the noble mission of mine countermeasures and the importance of removing the indiscriminate mine threat from our planet’s waters. We intend to take this year’s performance to another level.

Beyond just IMCMEX, as I reflect on this past year, Ponce has brought many proud achievements for my personal commanding officer’s log. My fondest memories are observing first hand the incredible talents, resourcefulness and hard work of our salty military and civilian mariner crew that brought a ship destined for decommissioning back to full operational capability. Ponce has awed many visitors – each with a genuine curiosity and some misperceptions of this “thing” called an afloat forward staging base.

I wrote this blog to satisfy that curiosity, clear the misperceptions and share information about Ponce, her crew, her concepts and her mission.

Here are five facts about USS Ponce (Pon-say):

  1. Ponce is a USS ship commanded by a U.S. Navy captain and is manned by 55 Sailors and 165 civilian mariners. The average crewmember’s age aboard Ponce is 43 years old.
  2. Ponce will celebrate her 42nd birthday July 10, 2013. Thanks to all who have sailed aboard Ponce throughout the years!
  3. When Ponce was commissioned in 1971, she had a core crew of 508 personnel. When she was re-designated as an afloat forward staging base on April 16, 2012, her crew totaled 360. Today, she sails with 220 Sailors and civilian mariners.
  4. Ponce’s Navy crew consists of individual augmentees with seven-, nine- and 11-month rotations.
  5. Ponce has stand-alone Wi-Fi in the ship’s Internet café.

Laser Weapon System

In April, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert announced at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition in Washington, D.C., that Ponce was the chosen platform to deploy the Navy’s new Laser Weapon System.

The irony of putting the newest technology on one of our “wisest” ships is a testament to the hard work of the crew who earned the confidence for this decision. The crew is eager to live the experience and learn about this new weapons system. Serving in the first ship with this technology is definitely a checkmark in a Navy career!

Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) transits the Arabian Gulf during International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012 (IMCMEX 12), Sept. 22, 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jumar T. Balacy/Released)

Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) transits the Arabian Gulf during International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012 (IMCMEX 12), Sept. 22, 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jumar T. Balacy/Released)

Intel Specialists Make Waves Aboard Ponce

Ponce takes great pride in recognizing the outstanding accomplishments achieved throughout the year. Intel Specialist Chief Cedrick Thomas, soon to be Chief Warrant Officer Thomas, and his two intelligence specialists, IS2 Billy Kingry and IS3 Joshua Emanis, are the sole reason Ponce earned the prestigious Surface Force Intelligence Excellence Award for 2012.

The award recognizes Pacific and Atlantic Fleet ships that contribute significantly to afloat intelligence readiness. This is a real Navy success story for Thomas, Kingry, Emanis and their families! I hope their families realize how significant their achievements have been on the home front and battlefront!

The successes of Ponce during her first year rest entirely upon the shoulders of her crew. I could not be more proud to be her commanding officer.

The Proud Lion serves on!