Ponce crew awarded for service; new CIVMAR command-at-sea pins unveiled

Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, commander, Military Sealift Command, honored 89 members of USS Ponce’s (AFSB(I) 15) crew during an Oct. 7 ceremony highlighting accomplishments associated with bringing Ponce into service and on station.

MINA SALMAN, Bahrain (Sept. 20 2012) Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) Interim (I) USS Ponce departs Mina Salman, Bahrain for phase two of the Intenational Mine Countermeasures Exercise. IMCMEX 12 includes navies from more than 30 countries focusing to promote regional security through mine countermeasures operatins in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Lewis Hunsaker/Released)

Navy Capt. Jon P. Rodgers, Ponce’s commanding officer, also presided over the ceremony held aboard Ponce, underway in the Arabian Gulf. Current and past members of Ponce’s combined crew of MSC civil service mariners and U.S. Navy Sailors were recognized with a variety of awards and commendations recognizing their efforts to make the Navy’s first Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) an operational reality.

Capt. Timothy Lockwood, Ponce’s civil service master, and CIVMAR Chief Engineer Blaine Darling and First Assistant Engineer Christian Teague were presented DOD Meritorious Civilian Service Awards for their roles in Ponce’s shakedown after the ship’s refit.

Uniformed Navy personnel awards included one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, seven Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and seven flag letters of commendation, awarded on behalf of Rear Adm. David M. Thomas, commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic. Additionally, 10 CIVMARs were awarded flag letters of commendation, and 61 CIVMARs were awarded letters of appreciation.

“The capabilities you brought – folks on the other side of the street are taking note of the capability you brought in,” said Buzby. “We read it in Washington all the time. You’ve done things that have never been done before. You’re also setting the pace for the follow-on version of this ship, still being built. This old girl’s got a ways to steam and a lot of love for you to put into her.”

During the ceremony, Buzby also unveiled a new MSC civil service mariner command-at-sea and chief engineer-at-sea pin the ceremony. He presented the pins – designed to mirror the U.S. Navy’s active duty command-at-sea pins worn by those who command Navy ships and aircraft squadrons – to Lockwood and Darling.

“One of the things I’ve been trying to do in my time at MSC is to provide a means to recognize folks for the hard work and prestige that go with being the master and chief engineer,” said Buzby. “In the Navy, commanding officers wear a command at sea pin, the star image establishing their authority as commander. I’ve instituted such a device at MSC for masters and chief engineers.”

Buzby said the devices are slated for distribution throughout the MSC fleet in the next month, recognizing a proud tradition of service and seagoing expertise. The prototype gold-colored pins feature an anchor surrounded by stars for the master and a ship’s propeller surrounded by stars for the chief engineer, with an identifying “MSC” across the image of both.

“It’s a nice recognition,” said Darling. “It’s nice to have as a symbol of achievement.”

Ponce recently showcased its capabilities in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility during International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012, Sept. 16-27.

During the exercise, Ponce acted as the command ship while demonstrating its ability to stage people and equipment and to provide support to surface ship and mine countermeasures operations. Additionally, Ponce embarked, launched and recovered helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and small craft, some of these assets belonging to the military forces of several of the 30 participating nations.

“Ponce’s been an amazing and outstanding experience,” said Lockwood. “When I took Ponce, I was looking at it as an opportunity to excel and this command shows I accomplished what I set out to do. This command will benefit masters by making them more versatile for future platforms.”

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