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NavSource Online: Service Ship Photo Archive

Contributed by Mike Smolinski

Contributed by Al Grazevich

USNS Observation Island (T-AGM-23)
USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) (1958 - 1972)

International Radio Call Sign:
November - Lima - India - Lima
Awards, Citations and Campaign Ribbons

Precedence of awards is from top to bottom, left to right
Top Row - Navy Unit Commendation (2) - Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation (3)
Bottom Row - Navy Battle "E" (4) - National Defense Service Medal - Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (1)

Observation Island Class Range Instrumentation Ship:
  • Laid down, 15 September 1952, as Empire State Mariner, a Maritime Administration type (C4-S-A1) hull under Maritime Administration contract, (MA 28), at New York Shipbuilding Corp, Camden, N.J.
  • Launched, 15 August 1953
  • Delivered to the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and United States Lines for operation under General Agency Agreement, 24 February 1954
  • SS Empire State Mariner, CAPT. Vince P. Arkins, Master, made three voyages for the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) before lay being laid up, 9 November 1954, in the National Defense Reserve Fleet
  • Acquired by the Navy, 10 September 1956
  • Converted for Naval service at Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., Baltimore, MD.
  • Commissioned USS Observation Island (E-AG-154), December 1958, CAPT. Leslie M. Slack, USN, in command
  • Decommissioned in 1972
  • Transferred to MARAD for lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet
  • Reacquired, 18 August 1977, by the Navy, assigned to the Military Sealift Command (MSC) and placed in service as Range Instrumentation Ship, USNS Observation Island (T-AGM-23) a part the MSC Special Mission Ships Program (PM2), MSC Pacific
  • Deactivated, 25 March 2014, and towed to Beaumont, TX. for custody transfer to the Maritime Administration
    E-AG Specifications:
    Displacement 12,978 t.(lt) 16,076 t.(fl)
    Length 564'
    Beam 76'
    Speed 21 kts.
    Draft 26'
    Complement 434
    one General Electric geared turbine
    two Foster Wheeler boilers
    single propeller, 19,250shp
    Click On Image
    For Full Size Image
    Size Image Description Source
    SS Empire State Mariner (MSTS General Agency Agreement)
    Observation Island 323k CAPT. Vince Arkins (second from left), first master of SS Empire State Mariner. Photo was probably taken when the ship went into service with MSTS, 24 February 1954. CAPT Arkins was master of the US flagged freighter SS Lehigh, one of three ships the Germans sunk before the US entered World War II.
    US Navy photo.
    Richard Leonhardt
    USS Observation Island (E-AG-154)
    Observation Island 337k Observation Island (E-AG-154) nearing completion at the Naval Shipyard, Norfolk, VA. Observation Island is a fast “Mariner” type cargo ship converted to carry all types of launching, fire control, and navigational devices called for by the testing program, 13 October 1958.
    US Navy photo # 428-GX-USN 1038302
    National Museum of the US Navy
    Observation Island 73k USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) underway with USS Robert E Lee (SSBN 601), date and location unknown.
    US Navy photo
    Tim Howard
    Observation Island 128k USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) underway, date and location unknown.
    US Navy photo.
    Tommy Trampp
    Observation Island 49k USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) arriving at Cape Canaveral, circa 1959.
    US Navy photo from "All Hands" magazine, September 1960.
    Robert Hurst and Joe Radigan MACM USN Ret.
    Observation Island 929k USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) undergoing conversion at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 1959 to accommodate testing of FBM weapons system. Note YD-73 alongside.
    US Navy photos
    Mary Lou Lockhart
    Observation Island 627k
    Observation Island 578k USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) getting underway after conversion at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 1959 to accommodate testing of FBM weapons system. Note Ankachak (YTB-501) in the background. Mary Lou Lockhart
    Observation Island 79k USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) during test launch of a 28-foot test version of the Polaris SLBM. The missile was forced 70 ft above the deck by compressed air after which its first stage engine ignited.
    US Navy photo
    Robert Hurst
    Observation Island 927k USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) under way circa 1963, probably off the coast of California.
    US Navy photo courtesy Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum
    Darryl Baker
    Observation Island 90k President Kennedy visits the USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) to observe the firing of a Polaris missile from the fleet ballistic missile submarine USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619), 15 November 1963. Bob Haner YN1 USN Ret. USS John F. Kennedy
    Observation Island 33k
    Observation Island 315k USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) firing a Polaris Missile off Cape Canaveral, FL., date unknown.
    US Navy photos from the collections of the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum.
    Darryl Baker
    Observation Island 334k
    Observation Island 154k USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) moored pierside at Naval Station Pearl Harbor forward of the Destroyer Escort USS John R. Perry (DE-1034), date unknown.
    Photo by Michael Longseth
    Ron Reeves
    Observation Island 200k USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) under way, circa 1967, location unknown.
    US Navy photo 1967-68 edition of "Jane's Fighting Ships"
    Robert Hurst
    Observation Island 89k USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) under way, date and location unknown. Richard Miller BMCS USNR Ret.
    Observation Island 289k USS Observation Island (E-AG-154) launching a Poseidon C3 missile in 1970. David Campbell
    USNS Observation Island (T-AGM-23)
    Observation Island 226k USNS Observation Island (T-AGM-23) underway, 6 July 2006. Observation Island operates worldwide, monitoring compliance with strategic arms treaties and supporting U.S. military weapons test programs. Observation Island carries an Air Force ship-borne phased-array radar system for collecting data on missile tests. The ship is operated by Military Sealift Command for the US Air Force Technical Applications Center at Patrick Air Force Base, FL.
    US Navy photo # 060706-N-0000X-001
    MSC web site
    Observation Island 337k USNS Observation Island (T-AGM-23) underway, date and location unknown. Photo from a postcard. Tommy Trampp
    Observation Island 101k USNS Observation Island (T-AGM-23) underway, date and location unknown. Note she is fitted with the 'Cobra Judy' radar aft.
    US Navy photo
    Richard Miller BMCS USNR Ret.
    Observation Island 113k The de-activated USNS Observation Island (T-AGM-23) departing Hampton Roads for the last time while under tow by USNS Grapple (T-ARS-53), 25 March 2014, enroute to lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet, Beaumont, TX. Lee Wahler
    Sumner 266k Ex-USNS Observation Island (T-AGM-23) with ex-USNS Sumner (T-AGS-61) alongside moored in the National Defense Reserve Fleet, Beaumont, TX., 2 November 2014. Note /USNS Flint (T-AE-32) moored to the left and ST Chesapeake (AOT-5084) moored to the right. Photo by Chris Holley
    Sumner 255k Ex-USNS Observation Island (T-AGM-23) with USNS Sumner (T-AGS-10) alongside moored in the National Defense Reserve Fleet, Beaumont, TX., 2 November 2014. Note MV Cape Lambert (AKR-5077) moored forward of Observation Island and Sumner. Photo by Chris Holley

    USS Observation Island Additional Ship's Patches
    Observation Island
    Contributed by Mike Smolinski
    Observation Island
    Contributed by Mike Smolinski
    Observation Island
    Contributed by Russ Moody

    For more photos and information about USS Observation Island see;
  • Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (DANFS)
  • Chronology of Observation Island
  • The Polaris Story "All Hands" September
  • MARAD Vessel History Database

  • Commanding Officers
    01CAPT. Slack, Leslie Martin USN5 December 1958 - March 1960
    02CAPT. King Jr., Thomas StarrMarch 1960 - February 1961
    03CAPT. Boyd, Gideon MillardFebruary 1961 - April 1962
    04CAPT. Williams, John Wesley (40)April 1962 - 12 August 1963
    05CAPT. Middleton, Roderick Osgood :RADM12 August 1963 - 22 July 1964
    06CAPT. Wallace, Kenneth Carroll :RADM23 July 1964 - 29 January 1965
    07CAPT. Napier29 January 1965 - 6 May 1966
    08CAPT. Hancotte Jr., John J.6 May 1966 - January 1968
    09CAPT. Anderson, James Lennon, USN (42)January 1968 - September 1969
    10CAPT. Dotson, William Cole, USN (47)September 1969 - July 1971
    11CAPT. Goddard, Thomas Bohner, USN (49)July 1971 - 29 September 1972
    Courtesy Wolfgang Hechler and Ron Reeves

    Crew Contact And Reunion Information
    U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation - Navy Log

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    This page is created and maintained by Gary P. Priolo
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    Last Updated 30 September 2016