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USS Camden ends 38 years of Navy service

USS Camden (AOE-2) sits high in the water pierside at Pier Delta during its decommissioning ceremony held Thursday, Sept. 29. Camden now joins sister ship ex-USS Sacramento at the Bremerton Naval Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility. - Photo by Fred Miles Watson
USS Camden (AOE-2) sits high in the water pierside at Pier Delta during its decommissioning ceremony held Thursday, Sept. 29. Camden now joins sister ship ex-USS Sacramento at the Bremerton Naval Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility.
— image credit: Photo by Fred Miles Watson

For more than 31 years the USS Camden (AOE 2) has called Bremerton its homeport from which it has deployed to provide the beans, bullets and oil to the fleet.

On Thursday, Sept. 29, the fast combat support ship was decommissioned at Pier Delta at Naval Base Kitsap at Bremerton ending 38 years of naval service.

More than 300 people attended the pierside ceremony held under a large ceremonial tent due to inclement weather conditions. Capt. Kenneth Norton the ship’s current commanding officer, welcomed the audience, that also included more than a half dozen former Camden commanding officers and approximately 100 former crewmembers who served on board through the ship’s career.

Norton then introduced the guest speaker, former commanding officer Capt. Walter Carter, who Norton had relieved nearly a year ago.

“The success that we enjoyed on deployment was because of the hard work he (Carter) did training this crew, bringing the ship out of the yards and getting it certified and then getting it combat ready. I felt it was important to me to show my appreciation to him allowing him to have a part in today’s ceremony,” Norton said.

Carter’s remarks focused on three main topics -- the ship, the mission and the crew. In addition, he touched on the end of an era in Navy history.

“Today we are not only going to honor the decommissioning of the USS Camden, but we are going to honor 88 years of continuous service of the Combat Logistics Force of U.S. Navy commissioned ships. Today we close the door as USS Camden represents the last of the Navy ships to turn that mission over to the Military Sealift Command.”

Camden was the second of four Sacramento class ships to be built after Navy officials determined in 1952, the need for ships that were fast and that could deliver three products all at once to the emerging fleet of newer and faster aircraft carriers being built.

USS Sacramento AOE-1, built at PSNS, was decommissioned last October and was followed by the decommissioning of USS Seattle AOE-3 and USS Detroit AOE-4 earlier this year on the East Coast. All four newer Supply class AOE’s, including USS Rainier and USS Bridge, both homeported at Bremerton, have been decommissioned and assigned to MSC.

Carter said the Camden’s legacy is not just that she has answered the call for 38 years.

“Every ship has a personality. One will say the personality of the ship is a direct reflection of the commanding officer. There are a lot of former and current commanding officers in the audience who will agree with me that’s really not true. That personality of the ship, that life blood, is the crew,” Carter said. “And if you look back at the history of the Camden, for 38 years, (it) has been the home to over 8000 Sailors, chief petty officers, officers, aviators, during her life span.”

Later in his remarks, Carter spoke of Norton’s tenure as the ship’s last commanding officer

“I would like to acknowledge the absolutely superb performance that has been done over this past year by yourself, master chief, XO. Taking Camden on an around the world deployment as part of the Carl Vinson Strike Group,” Carter said. “And how appropriate that they return home to Bremerton, home for 31 years. Congratulations to you, your leadership has shown through on every evolution.”

In summation of his remarks, Carter said the experiences by crews who have manned the Camden is what its all about.

“I would tell you that I am very proud to have been one of the 27 commanding officers of the USS Camden. But I am humbled by the magnitude of this day. As I stand here I will tell you that I am just as proud or more proud to say that I stand shoulder to shoulder with

8,000 crewmembers of this ship. We will all have a common bond on board Camden. We’ll have the privilege to say we were shipmates. That will be the legacy of the USS Camden.”

Following Carter’s comments, Norton again took the podium and quipped to the audience prior to wrapping up the ceremony.

“This is not a wake. This is kind of a transition. Decommissioning a ship is basically, ‘We’ve found a better way to do it.’ I think.”

Norton added later that he does have concerns about what future Sailors will miss by not being able to serve aboard an AOE.

“The only sad thing I foresee is an undesignated Sailors inability to be apart of this class of ship and get their feet wet in observing all the different jobs available to them before they must choose their rate, choose their fate,” Norton said.

There were a dozen or so shipyard workers who had worked on the ship through the years in attendance, such as Brian Roades from Todd Pacific Shipyards Inc., in West Seattle.

“Out of all the ships I’ve been sent out to fix, Camden and its crew were the best combination. They were always willing to be accommodating and helpful,” Roades said.”

Current crewmember Boastswain’s Mate Third Class (SW) Nicole Cirino commented that there was always plenty to keep one’s attention while at sea aboard Camden.

“I’ll always miss the action-- Helos flying, fork lifts driving, whistles blowing, announcements over the 1MC, our elephant anthem, elevators buzzing, and Camden’s band playing after hours,” Cirino said.

For more many years, the Navy League of the United States’ Seapower Almanac has described the AOE-1 class with a bold, opening sentence.

“The ships of the Sacramento class are the largest underway replenishment ships in the world.”

But in reality, the physical size of the ship is secondary to the spirit and personality of the men and women who serve on board them.

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