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USS Mount Whitney Becomes U.S. 6th Fleet Flagship; USS La Salle to Decommission

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS050225-03
Release Date: 2/25/2005 2:10:00 PM

From U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs

GAETA, Italy (NNS) -- Vice Adm. Harry Ulrich, commander, U.S. 6th Fleet, transferred his flag from USS La Salle (AGF 3) to USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20) Feb. 25 in a ceremony aboard both ships.

"During its time here, La Salle has distinguished itself over and over by providing simply outstanding support to the 6th Fleet staff, and also to Striking and Support Forces NATO staff," said Ulrich. "I am greatly anticipating my first embark aboard USS Mount Whitney with the Joint Command Lisbon staff this spring."

Mount Whitney followed the flagship turnover with a change of command. Mount Whitney's former Commanding Officer, Capt. Christopher Wode, was excited about the ship's new role.

"I'm thrilled to be here in Gaeta," Wode said. "This is the third time in my career that I've had the opportunity to spend time in Gaeta. This is a wonderful place to live and work."

Mount Whitney most recently served as the command ship for U.S. 2nd Fleet in Norfolk, Va. Mount Whitney's transition to U.S. 6th Fleet brings increased capabilities and a new ship manning philosophy to Naval Forces in Europe.

In preparation for its new role, Mount Whitney underwent a two-month shipyard period to upgrade automated electronics systems. Also, Mount Whitney's size advantage over La Salle allows for enhanced command and control capabilities for U.S. 6th Fleet, as well as NATO forces in Europe.

To improve efficiency and effectiveness, Mount Whitney is also embracing a new manning model. Down from 576 active-duty Sailors, ship's company now includes a mix of 157 active-duty Navy and 146 civilian mariners, a change expected to save the Navy more than $100,000 annually, with the same or higher operational capabilities.

The transfer marks more than a decade of La Salle's exemplary service as the U.S. 6th Fleet flagship. La Salle immediately departs for Norfolk, Va., where it will be decommissioned after 40 years of service.

"This past year has been particularly successful. This ship has been underway every month, except for October's maintenance period," said La Salle Commanding Officer, Capt. Herman Shelanski. "This crew performed superbly."

Commissioned as an amphibious transport dock ship (LPD) in February 1964, and converted to a miscellaneous command ship (AGF) in 1972, La Salle served as U.S. 6th Fleet flagship from November 1994 to February 2005.

Prior to U.S. 6th Fleet flagship duties, La Salle was forward-deployed as flagship for the Middle East Force. March 12, 1991, it was the first U.S. Navy warship to enter the newly liberated port of Ash Shuaybah, Kuwait.

"USS La Salle has performed admirably, and its readiness in this area has been an enormous contribution here," said Ulrich. "Mount Whitney, you will have some giant shoes to fill in taking over as my flagship. This is also the European flagship. Mount Whitney's capabilities are just magnificent, and I have no doubt that Mount Whitney will serve the 6th Fleet extremely well."

Mount Whitney is already accustomed to European and African waters, as it served as temporary U.S. 6th Fleet flagship in 1999, NATO command headquarters in Kosovo, and supported Operation Enduring Freedom on a seven-month deployment to the Horn of Africa region.

Mount Whitney was constructed by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, and commissioned in 1971. It is named for the 14,946-foot peak in the Sierra-Nevada range in California, the highest point in the lower continental United States. Mount Whitney is 190 meters long, 32 meters wide and can reach speeds up to 23 knots.

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