The first US Navy vessel to bear the name, the USS Ouellet honored Seaman David George Ouellet (1944-1967). Seaman Ouellet was mortally wounded in the Vietnam War when he placed himself between a missile and his fellow servicemen. He was posthumously awarded the military’s highest honor—the Medal of Honor—for his heroic actions in the line of duty. The 26th Knox-class frigate to be constructed, the USS Ouellet bore the motto “The Phantom Frigate” as she served the United States in commission for nearly 23 years.
Avondale Shipyard (Bridge City, Louisiana) laid the keel of the 438-foot USS Ouellet on January 15, 1969. A launching ceremony was later held at the Charleston Naval Shipyard (Charleston, South Carolina) on January 17, 1970 at which time Mrs. Chester J. Ouellet—mother of the USS Ouellet’s namesake—christened the vessel as her sponsor. The vessel was officially commissioned at the same location in Charleston later that same year on the 12th of December. The USS Ouellet was originally designated as a destroyer escort (DE) prior to her reclassification as a frigate (FF) in June of 1975.This vessel employed a crew numbering 285 initially led by Commander Albert L. Henry.
Equipped with a sophisticated defense system comprised of one MK-16 eight-cell missile launcher for antisubmarine rocket (ASROC) and Harpoon missiles, one MK-42 five-inch/54 caliber gun, MK-46 torpedoes from single tube launchers, and one MK-25 basic point defense missile system (BPDMS) launcher for Sea Sparrow missiles (which was later replaced with the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System [CIWS]), the primary responsibility of this vessel was to search out and destroy enemy submarines. The USS Ouellet displaced approximately 4,200 tons (full load), achieved speeds in excess of 27 knots, and housed one SH-2 Seasprite Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) helicopter on board.
Upon her commissioning in December of 1970, the USS Ouellet was assigned to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii where she served as a unit of Destroyer Squadron 25. Just a few months later in April of 1971 she was reassigned to serve with Destroyer Squadron 33.
January 27, 1972 marked the USS Ouellet’s departure for her first deployment to the Western Pacific which endured for a period of seven months. She was called upon to carry out a second deployment to this same region the following year from May through September of 1973.
The USS Ouellet’s first regular overhaul commenced on September 14, 1974 and lasted through June of the following year. A third and fourth deployment to the Western Pacific ensued followed by a second overhaul period that occupied Ouellet’s time from late 1978 through mid-1979.
The decade of the 1980s began with the USS Ouellet’s fifth, sixth, and seventh deployments to the Western Pacific which took place in September of 1980, April of 1982, and October of 1983, respectively. A third major overhaul commenced in 1985 and gave way to an eighth deployment to the Indian Ocean in April of 1987 followed by a ninth deployment that spanned from December of 1988 through May of 1989.
As the USS Ouellet’s career drew to a close, she spent the early years of the 1990s supporting law enforcement operations in Central America and participating in midshipmen training sponsored by the US Naval Academy.
The USS Ouellet carried out her tenth and final deployment from March through July of 1992 which took her all the way to Australia. On location in Australia, Ouellet participated in Pacific Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW) Exercise 92 and operated with the Australian Navy as part of a 50th anniversary celebration of a major WWII battle, the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Decommissioned on August 6, 1993, the USS Ouellet was later struck from the US Naval Vessel Register on January 11, 1995. Ouellet was eventually sold to Thailand where she served the Royal Thai Navy under the name of HTMS Phutthaloetla Naphalai (F-462).
Asbestos Risk on the USS Ouellet (FF-1077)
Early on in the 20th century, the naturally-occurring mineral asbestos was abundant, cost-effective, and provided resistance to high temperatures, fire, and most chemicals that was comparable to no other material on the market at that time. As a result, the US Navy mandated the use of this substance in more than 300 products utilized in the construction and maintenance of the vessels in her fleet.
As time progressed, the benefits of asbestos use began to become overshadowed by its toxic properties. Increasing numbers of individuals who were in direct contact with asbestos began to present with a variety of diseases, some of which proved to be fatal.
Mesothelioma is considered to be the most severe and aggressive asbestos-related disease with an almost certain limited life expectancy. Current mortality trends demonstrate that approximately 2,500 individuals fall victim to this devastating illness each year in the United States alone. With an extended latency period of 20 to 50 years, many individuals issued a mesothelioma diagnosis are often taken by surprise that exposure to a harmful substance in their distant past can suddenly alter their present-day health status to such a significant degree.
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Wikipedia–USS Ouellet (FF-1077)
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive