ROTA, Spain (NNS) -- USS La Salle (AGF 3) visited Naval Station Rota Feb. 28 for refueling and to unload ammunition.
The visit marked the ship's final stop at an overseas location before returning to Norfolk, Va., for decommissioning May 27.
"This is it. This is our last port here in the Mediterranean/European theater," said Capt. Herman A. Shelanski, commanding officer of La Salle.
La Salle's run serving the U.S. Navy includes a total of 41 years in active service. She was commissioned Feb. 22, 1964, as an Amphibious Transport Dock (LPD). During Operation Desert Storm, La Salle was renovated in a 17-month preparation for her next assignment as the U.S. 6th Fleet flagship, which she became Nov. 8, 1994.
"[La Salle] has served in every major theater, every major fleet that the Navy has had to offer," said Shelanski. "It has participated in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, and in several multinational NATO exercises - Majestic Eagle, Purple Flex and specifically the defense of the summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. We've also served as a platform for special operations forces. Naval special boat units have been on board, and we've been prepared to take down vessels in maritime intercept operations.
"We used the special forces on board consistently for a whole year during maritime intercept operations in the Med and in the Atlantic, not to mention all the different operations we've done in different countries working with foreign navies, working with foreign nationals and showing them what America's about and what our forces are capable of," Shelanski added.
While La Salle Sailors are happy to be going stateside, they had to leave their families behind in Gaeta, Italy, to make this trip, according to Shelanski.
"We had a fairly large ceremony when we left Gaeta, and we all said goodbye to our families," Shelanski said. "Most are staying there to finish up the school year, and we'll meet them back in Norfolk at the end of the decommissioning at the end of May. So we're trying to keep a straight face now as we press on for the business at hand, because it's a serious business to get across the Atlantic and to do it safely."
One stop La Salle will make before it hits Norfolk is Philadelphia, Pa.
"We thought it would be nice to go back stateside and visit before we hit Norfolk and got down to business," Shelanski said. "The crew's been dying for a Philadelphia cheese steak since I've been trying to tell them what it really tastes like," he joked.
Once La Salle arrives in Norfolk, they will begin the arduous task of cleaning out the ship.
"We start the decom process the first day. We move off the ship and onto a barge, and we start taking everything that's basically not attached off the ship," Shelanski said. "We'll be pretty busy certifying the ship to make sure everything is shut down properly, to make sure the ship is safe for towing. It'll eventually be brought up to Philadelphia shipyard, where it will be in an inactive status until the Navy decides what to do with it."
For related news, visit the Naval Station Rota, Spain, Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/rota.