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The legacy of The Mighty Falls.

The USNS Niagara Falls (T-AFS, 3), bearing the slogan "The Mighty Falls does it all," has concluded its final mission and is the next Military Sealift Command (MSC) combat stores ships to deactivate. The ship will be followed by USNS Concord (T-AFS 5), USNS San Jose (T-AFS 7), and USNS Saturn (TARS 10) scheduled to deactivate over the course of the next two years.

The ship, composed of 165 civilian Mariners, commercial helo pilots, and United States Navy personnel, was first laid down as an USS on May 22, 1965, at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego, Calif.

The ship was officially launched on March 26, 1966, and delivered to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard in Long Beach, Calif., April 20, 1967. The Niagara Falls (AFS 3) was commissioned on April 29, 1967, with Captain Horace C. Holley in command.

The ship was designed to deliver refrigerated stores, dry provisions, parts, and general stores to the Fleet at sea. Equipped with the capability to perform simultaneous replenishment at sea operations, transfer material through vertical replenishment using H46 cargo helicopters and connected replenishment through state of the art cargo handling equipment, the Niagara Falls, first as USS and then a USNS ship has provided vital provisions to the Fleet for over 41 years.

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Niagara Falls executed an official homeport change to Guam in September 1983, and became a forward-deployed element of CTF 73/75 as part of the 7th Fleet.

After the ship's exceptional career as a USS, during which time the ship received the 7th Fleet Finest Combat Logistic Support Ship Award for performance during Operation Team Spirit and PACEX-89, along with the Meritorious Unit Commendation as well as receiving the Battle "E', the ship was first decommissioned September 1994.

Niagara Falls was then assigned to Military Sealift Command (MSC) where the ship was placed in service on September 23, 1994, as USNS Niagara Falls (T-AFS 3).

During the following 14 years of forward-deployed service as MSC ship, the Niagara Falls conducted combat cruises and countless replenishment at sea operations, providing pallets upon pallets of provisions, material, mail, cargo, and fuel to ships deployed throughout 7th and 5th Fleet area of responsibility. Additionally, Niagara Falls assisted in several Humanitarian efforts such as Tsunami Relief Operations, Nias Island earthquake disaster relief, Papua New Guinea Displaced Persons disaster relief, Operation Unified Assistance, Pacific Partnerships, and the most recent combined disaster relief efforts in the central Philippines during Typhoon Feng Shen with USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group.

CDR(sel) Josh Tucker, CTF 73 Replenishment Officer, said "USNS Niagara Falls has been involved in support missions in every major event from Operation Southern Watch, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Desert Shield to Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom."

In response to a post action message regarding the recent Humanitarian support during Typhoon Feng Shen, Admiral Wisecup, Commander, Carrier Strike Group Seven said "You have my heartfelt thanks for your significant contributions, WHEN IT MATTERED." Further more he went on to say "I am convinced all our actions precluded the spread of disease as well as easing human suffering."

Niagara Falls completed her last mission support operation with USNS Mercy (TAH 19) in July 2008. The "Falls" provided provisions to the hospital ship that was operating off the coast of Timor, Leste in support of the humanitarian mission Operation Pacific Partnership 2008.

Niagara Falls conducted a final connected replenishment of all remaining cargo, materials, and the transfer of the contracted Presidential Airways Puma detachment Bravo onboard with USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE 4) in July 2008. Niagara Falls received shot-lines for the final time as the ship prepared to pass vital freight to its relief, Richard E. Byrd.

Captain Dan LaPorte, Master of the Niagara Falls presented a special engraved award to Byrd's Master and long time friend Captain Robert Jaeger to commemorate the Niagara Falls' final Replenishment at Sea.

CAPT Jim Smart, CTF 73 Assistant Chief of Staff for Logistics told Navy News, "While we say a sad farewell to USNS NIAGARA FALLS and honor her many years of fine service and her reputation for professional excellence, we welcome and are glad to have USNS RICHARD E. BYRD and its crew on the Navy team in the Western Pacific."

He also further stated in an e-mail to Captain LaPorte "You can depart knowing that NFL has a reputation for excellence unequaled by any other CLF ship in theater. While we will miss NFL ... I cannot think of a better ship to set the standard for the turnover process."

In a Bravo Zulu and Fair Winds naval message sent to Captain LaPorte by Rear Admiral Tyson she says "As USNS Niagara Falls begins her final voyage to the U.S., I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank you and your crew (past and present) for an amazing 41 years of service. Throughout its history, Niagara Falls has been a stalwart in 7th and 5th Fleet operations with a justifiably well-earned reputation for a can-do attitude and excellence in service. Your participation in operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom (to name a few) as well as numerous humanitarian assistance missions have made a lasting impact and cemented Niagara Falls' name in the history books. Please accept my sincere gratitude for forty-one years of extraordinary contributions to our nation's maritime readiness. Well done."

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Although there was no official ceremony to honor the ship's final arrival in Guam or express the gratitude of the impressive history and dedication that the ship has provided over the last 41 years, spirits and morale were high. The crew aboard simply shared a celebratory luncheon of steak and shrimp, slapped some high fives, and began preparing for the departure of the few remaining Military Detachment personnel who would be departing Guam throughout the first week of August. Some civilian mariners departed, with new faces reporting to quickly fill the empty billet numbers. The sound of the ship has been that of a busy buzz as final operations and offloads are completed, spaces are closed out, and the ship prepares to sail to Hawaii on her final voyage before her keel rest on the bottom of the ocean floor forever.

The ship's historic past and journey is one of dedicated service. As with all things, out with the old and in with the new, but the loss of the Niagara Falls will not be soon forgotten. Her ability to adapt to changing schedules, difficult missions, and challenging operations has made her a successful and unforgettable ship. For those who have sailed onboard as part of her crew, she will forever remain a part of their hearts with the memories, friendships, and hard work shared over the years.

As the Mars class ship prepares to deactivate, we say goodbye to the forward-deployed vessel that has provided over 41 years of service as she prepares to sail to Hawaii and remember the legacy of the Niagara Falls. In the words of the Chief Engineer, Terrance Campbell "The Mighty Falls, did it all."

By ENS Stephanie K. Titus, SC, USN, Public Affairs Officer
COPYRIGHT 2008 U.S. Department of the Navy, Supply Systems Command
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Author:Titus, Stephanie K.
Publication:Navy Supply Corps Newsletter
Date:Nov 1, 2008
Words:1191
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