USS Ponce returns from 5-year forward deployment

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- After serving five years in the Persian Gulf and the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation, the USS Ponce is returning home, possibly for the final time.

Commissioned in 1971, the Ponce is one of the oldest ships in the Navy's service. In recent years, the Ponce was used to test experimental laser weaponry.  The USNS Lewis B. Puller deployed from Naval Station Norfolk over summer to fill the Ponce's role in the 5th Fleet as an Expeditionary Sea Base.

It is slated to be decommissioned later this year.

It's not a regular homecoming, as the ship has few sailors and civilian mariners making up the crew.  

The ship's namesake is the city of Ponce, Puerto Rico, which suffered significant damage along with the rest of the island from Hurricane Maria earlier this month.

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