Monday, September 17, 2012

A Sailor remembers his last ship on the occasion of its' final demise:


Guest posting by Vic Socotra, blogger extraordinaire first published in


I am a little smaller this morning, not so pumped up. We deliver a proposal to the Government this morning, first thing, and as I write the boxes that contain the binders are waiting in Gaithersburg to be driven down to Ballston for further transport and delivery to Joint Base Bolling-Anacostia.
Aside from the confusion about the 9/11 attack that killed Ambassador Stevens it has been a wild week. The confusion mostly seems to be about the media, which is perplexed at the impact of that stupid film with the puerile assault on Islam, whose delicate sensibilities were bruised by a movie that no one in the region had actually seen.

 Aside from a flash of outrage, we were busy putting together the proposal- this is the death rattle of the Government’s Fiscal 2012, and by the time the contracting officers issued the solicitation, there was less than a week to turn around a massive set of documents that clearly demonstrate our technical expertise and make the case that our company should be selected.
That was not always what occupied the day. I got a note from the Left Coast a couple days ago that ex-USS Coronado had been delivered by tow-ship to a closure area in the western Pacific. She was not just a ship on which I served, she was my last ship.

 I will never forget the last night I was underway on her, and stepping out on the smoking deck to puff a cigar under the stars in the OpArea adjacent to the Marine base at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego.
That is it, I thought at the time. The last time to be part of a ship, a human cog in the intricate machine that can steam the world ocean and bring everyone home safe and sound.
Coronado had an interesting role in the history of the wired world. She started out as an LPD- an “Amphibious Transport Dock” in the parlance of the amphibious Gator Navy- the second unit of the Austin-class, and fitted out with additional space in the superstructure to act as a command ship, if necessary.

She was a Vietnam-era construction project by the Lockheed corporation, with keel laid in 1965.  After two years of delays due to union issues at the shipyard, she was finally commissioned in 1970- just in time for the big draw-down as we left SE Asia in 1973.
Accordingly, she was a “low miles” ship, and a platform that could be modified for other purposes. She found those in 1980, when her designation was changed to “AGF-11,” or “Auxiliary General- Flagship.”

Her first assignment in that role was to relieve the USS La Salle in the Persian Gulf, when the Shah was still around. She then bounced around the Med, playing a support role in Operation Eldorado Canyon, the strikes President Reagan ordered against Qaddafy’s regime in Libya for the disco bombing in Berlin. Funny how things come around, isn’t it?

I was assigned to the staff of the Commander, THIRD Fleet, twice. The first time we were a shore-based staff tasked with Theater anti-submarine missions in the Pacific. That was an intolerable for any Admiral with a whole Fleet at his disposal, and in 1986 Coronado embarked the staff in Pearl Harbor. Stints as replacement for MIDEASTFOR interspersed the following few years, including the time of Operation PRAYING MANTIS, the culmination of the Tanker War in the Gulf.

That put her in the middle of two of the five largest naval actions since WWII, so she had her combat creds. I met her when she was back as the THRID Fleet Flagship, this time berthed at naval Station North Island in San Diego.

It was a great duty assignment. I could walk to work from our house on Alameda Boulevard, and life on Coronado Island serving on the USS Coronado was pretty damn good.

The Good Ship AGF-11 made some history in San Diego, too, as the first combatant ship to embark women as part of the regular ship’s company. Then, under VADM Connie Lautenbacher, we were tasked to make her the most capable command ship on the planet.

Her original design featured a well deck aft below the flight deck that could be flooded down to permit Marine amphibious vehicles to float out and go ashore. We filled in the vast empty space with a new office building that included command spaces for the Joint Forces Air Component Commander and his staff along with the ground pounders and Fleet commander. It was way cool, and I got the only private room that I would have in my career. It was an office-cum-stateroom with a cool couch that folded down into a bed.
Life was very good.

In there was a Rim-of-the-Pacific exercise and a return to Hawaii and the OpAreas off Pearl with a host of units from foreign navies. It was a great tour, and when I walked off in 1997, I was proud of what we had accomplished with tin-cup financing to make the most advanced command and control capability afloat ever.

The Fleet was shrinking, though, and despite the tax-payer’s money we spent, the clock was running on a hull that had more than 30 years steaming on her. 

The first indignity came in late 2003 when she was transferred to the Military Sealift Command. That would enable contractors to replace sailors in the crew, saving costs. Of course in those days contractors- mercenaries, if you will- complicated Cornoado’s role in the Rules of War, and she slipped back into the regular Navy.

Her last hurrah was as replacement for the Blue Maru- USS Blue Ridge, flagship of the 7th Fleet.  Coronado was the stand-in during a major overhaul for Blue Ridge, and then decommissioned for good in 2006.

Seems like such a waste, since we spent so much money and made so many innovations inside her hull.

But of course ships are nothing more than refined iron oxide inexorably attempting to return to that state, and no hull lasts forever. The last hurrah was across the international dateline yesterday.
As part of Exercise Valiant Shield, she was towed to a target range in the Marianas, and set upon by a series of warships and B-52 bombers from Anderson AFB in Guam, and blown to pieces.

(A B-52 returns to Anderson after smacking my stateroom on AGF-11). 

Well, a certain amount of hull integrity remains, since she started her new mission at the bottom of 3,000 fathoms as a marine habitat and artificial reef yesterday.

A Sinking Exercise- SINKEX, for short- allegedly benefits the Navy by “providing crews the opportunity to gain proficiency in tactics, targeting and live firing against surface targets, which enhances combat readiness of deploying units.” For those concerned about litter on the world ocean, former Navy vessels used in SINKEXs are prepared in strict compliance with regulations prescribed and enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Coronado’s last mission, a joint one with Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces, come just in time for the JMSDF to get ready to take on China in the disputed Senkaku islands. The PRC calls them the Diaoyu Islands, and it appears that the Japanese are not going to roll over on the PRC’s astonishing claims to the entire South China Sea.
So, Coronado’s last mission might have been right at the beginning of something completely different.

As that balloon might be going up, I have to wonder this morning who- or what- is going to be living in my stateroom now?


Copyright 2012 Vic Socotra