In town for this weekend’s Cocoa Beach Air Show, the USS Ponce is on a three-stop decommission tour and offering free tours of the ship to the general public.
Since I’ve never been on a military ship of this magnitude and so soon after a recent mission off the coast of Africa protecting merchant ships from Somalian pirates, I was so excited that I jumped at the chance to tour the ship on the first day!
Glad I did since there were tons of people who were equally excited because a line awaited me on my arrival. But that was okay since this was a once in a life chance to see a fully manned Austin-class amphibious transport dock that has served in every single war in the Middle East.
After being quartered off into groups of 20, we were guided by crewman Desoto who took us on a pretty extensive tour of the USS Ponce from stern to bow in that order! The first part of the tour began with a briefing in the cramped dining hall where we learned the history of the ship, its main function, how many servicemen staff the ship (300 currently, but can hold up to 1,000) and its future.
After leaving the dining hall, we were then taken out to the flight deck. Although not very long, about the size of a basketball court, the space can supposedly hold six aircraft at a time. And yes they can even take off from the ship since the majority of the planes they transport are VTOL aircraft, meaning they take-off and land vertically.
Our tour then wound up to the upper decks where we were given a drill on firing one of the high-powered guns, followed by a tour of the pilot room and even below to a former sleeping quarter containing the “racks”. I wouldn’t even wish those beds on my worst enemy. But the best part of the tour was going below to the well deck where we were able to see where some of the Marine’s tanks and other amphibious equipment.
Seeing the equipment and the guys in fatigues, it really brought to home the reality of what’s it like being in the military: perilous and rewarding. I say this because the ship was absolutely spotless, and you could tell the crew was proud of what they did. And I’m proud and grateful for their service!
The USS Ponce will be in Port Canaveral until Sunday. Tours continue today through Saturday and their free to the public. If you miss touring the boat you’ll be sorry its definitely an one-of-a-kind exprience.