USNS Grapple tows ex-USNS Flint to Texas

After more than four decades of service to the U.S. Navy, ammunition ship USNS Flint inactivated Nov. 8, 2013. Yesterday afternoon, USNS Grapple began to tow ex-Flint on its final voyage to Beaumont, Texas. The following blog provides some of the ship’s history and perspectives from two of the vessel’s civil service masters, Capt. William Baldwin and Capt. Jonathan Olmsted. Edward Baxter, MSC Far East public affairs, also contributed.

USNS Flint crew members give the ship one final farewell. (U.S. Navy photo)

USNS Flint crew members give the ship one final farewell. (U.S. Navy photo)

 Capt. Bill Baldwin – Flint’s first MSC master

“It was bittersweet to be the one to offer Flint a final salute before leaving service,” said Baldwin, civil service master aboard USNS Matthew Perry (T-AKE 9) during a final underway replenishment with Flint off the coast of Guam in August. Baldwin also served as Flint’s first master from 1995 to 2000.

Flint, commissioned as USS Flint (AE-32) in 1971, transferred to Military Sealift Command in 1995.  

 Flint achieved several key milestones after completing a 15-month overhaul as MSC’s second ammunition ship in service. The ship completed its first post-overhaul underway replenishment in the Atlantic Ocean with USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204) in March 1997. Flint replenished a carrier for the first time after the overhaul when she transferred ammunition to USS Nimitz (CVN 68) the following month. 

Flint completed its largest at-sea delivery with USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in May 1999, delivering 1,790 pallets in 11 hours of connected replenishment operations and 15 hours of vertical replenishment operations. 

“Flint’s last underway replenishment was very emotional for me,” Baldwin said. “I thought of all the events we participated in, the ships we supported, the ports we called in and the exercises we played in. Mostly, though, I thought about the people.”

“We didn’t break any records; we didn’t do anything glamorous; we didn’t make headlines. We simply did what was asked of us and did it the best we could. Those who sailed in her lived the ship’s motto ‘Judicemur Agendo;’ let us be judged by our deeds, day in and day out.”

 Capt. Jonathan Olmsted – Flint’s final master

It has been a bittersweet assignment as Flint’s final master. Flint means a great deal to me and many others who were fortunate enough to serve on board.

Speaking personally, I have very strong feelings and many fond memories of Flint from my earlier days. I joined the ship in 1999 and stayed for almost four years, my longest assignment on any ship. Capt. William Baldwin was in command, and he and his senior officers had established an extremely professional ammunition program. Flint was a no-nonsense ammo ship, and the crew was there for one reason; to move ammo. In 2000, Capt. Baldwin handed the reins to Capt. Robert Jaeger, and the ship never skipped a beat. Over the years, Flint trained hundreds of mates, engineers and ammunition handlers. Her legacy within MSC will always be retained in the ammo community. Those who were fortunate enough to serve on her decks or down below will forever hold a special place for her in their hearts.

USNS Grapple (T-ARS 53) tows ex-USNS Flint from Charleston, S.C. to Beaumont, Texas. (U.S. Navy photo)

USNS Grapple (T-ARS 53) tows ex-USNS Flint from Charleston, S.C. to Beaumont, Texas. (U.S. Navy photo)

 USS Flint (AE 32) was built in Pascagoula, Miss., beginning in 1969. She was launched in 1970 and commissioned in 1971. As the fifth of eight Kilauea-class Navy ammunition ships, Flint and her successors shared design improvements and machinery automation upgrades which distinguished them from the first four AE hulls. Due to this distinction, these later ships, Flint, Shasta, Mount Baker and Kiska, were also known as the “AE 26/32 class.”

Flint operated with a full Navy crew of more than 300 Sailors for more than 20 years. Originally homeported at Concord Naval Weapon Station in California, she made over a dozen Western Pacific deployments and supported operations off the coast of Vietnam. She deployed to U.S. 5th Fleet during Operation Desert Shield, and supported Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, MSC operated only one ammunition ship for the Navy, USNS Kilauea (T-AE 26), which proved to be highly successful. Due to the ship’s impressive results, the Navy decided to transfer the remaining ammunition ships, beginning with Flint. USS Flint was decommissioned in 1995 and transferred to MSC for continued operation with a civilian crew of 140, plus a small military detachment.

For the next 16 years, Flint served as one of the premiere workhorses of Navy ammunition logistics. She spent the majority of her MSC career forward deployed in the Western Pacific, often attached to the Seventh Fleet aircraft carrier based in Japan. In addition to supporting carrier operations, Flint shuttled cargo ammunition between various Western Pacific bases and the continental United States.

During the opening stages of Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2001, Flint deployed to U.S. 5th Fleet with USS Kitty (CV-63). She steamed through Hormuz Strait Dec. 25 and supported combat operations for the next four months.

Flint returned to Guam in 2002 and proceeded to the shipyard for scheduled maintenance. While in the yard with her main engine under repair, Flint was caught directly in the path of Typhoon Chataan, which barrelled over Guam with winds over 150 knots, knocking out power and water throughout the island. Flint remained undamaged and spent the next several weeks providing fresh water and ice to local residents and a nearby nursing home.

In 2003, the ship made another combat deployment to U.S. 5th Fleet to support the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Flint remained on station during the ground campaign into Baghdad, providing day and night ammunition replenishment to the carrier strike group.

Following her OIF deployment, the ship returned to the Pacific and continued to provide ammunition logistics support in Seventh Fleet and Third Fleet for the next seven years.

The Navy identified a new requirement for a U.S. 5th Fleet ammunition ship in 2010. So at age 40, Flint began a new chapter in her long career as the first ammunition ship to be permanently forward deployed in U.S. 5th Fleet. She spent the next three years operating in and out of the Arabian Gulf, providing the fleet with a “floating ammunition magazine.”

In June 2013, Flint transferred her cargo ammunition load to USNS Alan Shepard (T-AKE 3) and departed Hormuz Strait for the final time. She then began a three-month, 18,000-mile journey across the Indian Ocean, across the Pacific and through the Panama Canal, finally reaching her inactivation shipyard in Charleston, S.C. As an amazing coincidence, Charleston had been USS Flint’s first duty station as a brand new ship – full circle indeed!





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