USS El Paso LKA-117 (1970-1994)
As a part of the Navy’s Charleston-class amphibious cargo ships, the USS El Paso served as amphibious assault support ships. These vessels were able to launch landing craft and helicopter support missions as well. Constructed in 1968 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company of Newport News, Virginia, the El Paso was formally commissioned in 1970. After a brief shakedown and training cruise, the ship took up assignment with the Atlantic Fleet. The El Paso spent her first 20 years carrying out a peacetime role in the Atlantic, as she was constructed too late to join the Vietnam War. In the summer of 1977, a storm cause the El Paso to strike the pier at Norfolk, where she was moored, damaging her hull. However, this collision was not serious.
Action in the Gulf War
In 1990, the USS El Paso was sent to support Coalition operations in the Persian Gulf, which was the vessels first combat situation. Although never seeing actual combat, the El Paso provided needed support for Coalition troops during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, keeping them supplied throughout the conflicts. Following her service in the Gulf War, the USS El Paso participated in Operation Restore Hope, which took place in Somalia. During this humanitarian mission, the El Paso took part in many resupply missions along the coast of this battle-torn African nation. After her service in Somalia, the El Paso was decommissioned and placed in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This took place on April 21, 1994 after 24 years of service. For her Gulf War service, the USS El Paso earned three Navy Battle Efficiency Awards, while she also earned two Armed Forces Expeditionary Medals for her service in Somalia.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, cargo ships also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma
, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.