ATLANTIC OCEAN - The bright rays of the sun cut through the cold breeze coming off the James River as amphibious transport dock USS Ponce (LPD 15) backed away from the pier, departing Naval Station Norfolk on her way to Florida’s “Space Coast” for the first of her final three port calls before being decommissioned.
Commissioned in 1971, Ponce is on her way for a visit to Port Canaveral, Florida, before heading in the Caribbean to call in the Virgin Islands and at her namesake city of Ponce, Puerto Rico. Upon returning to Norfolk in December, Ponce will begin the long decommissioning process that will close out her 41-year career March 30, 2012.
Lt. Cmdr. Ethan Mitchell, Ponce’s executive officer, said the port visit to Florida is significant because the Navy has not had a large presence along the Space Coast, and this is a chance for the Navy to get its mission and people out to places it normally doesn’t go.
“We’re usually in our home port and around Hampton Roads, but this is a chance to show the Navy to an area that is not used to seeing it,” Mitchell said.
Ponce’s sailors will have a chance to speak at local high schools, participate in a community service project at a local veterans’ home, and mingle with the citizens of Port Canaveral.
Stephen McConnell, Public Affairs Officer for Naval Ordnance Test Unit said NOTU is looking forward to hosting Ponce’s visit as a means of promoting the Navy’s presence.
“Having the Ponce in port enhances the Navy’s community outreach program,” McConnell said.
McConnell also said the community is looking forward to reaching out to Ponce.
“The community has been planning a ‘Welcome BBQ’ for the crew of the Ponce which will feature two live bands,” McConnell added.
Ponce is part of Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group, which is homeported at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Va.
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NORFOLK, VA, US
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