SMDC History: SENSCOM honors fallen Soldier with Power Ship Andrew J. Weber

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianApril 29, 2015

SMDC History: SENSCOM honors fallen Soldier with Power Ship Andrew J. Weber
The USS Sturgis, sister ship of the USS Andrew Weber, arriving in Panama. A former Liberty Ship, the Sturgis was part of the Army's nuclear power program. From 1968-72, the Sturgis and the Andrew Weber provided enough power to support increased traff... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

On April 24, 1968, the Sentinel Systems Command issued General Order Number 1. The order states in part that the Multifunction Array Radar, or MAR, II Floating Power Plant is hereby designated as Power Ship Andrew J. Weber in honor of Master Sgt. Andrew J. Weber.

Posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit, Weber had served with the Nike-Zeus and Nike-X program from December 1961 until his death on April 29, 1965 as a military equipment technician (radar) and a test observer.

During this period Weber "distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious service" as the test noncommissioned officer in the engineering/service test effort at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico and Kwajalein Missile Range.

The citation notes that Weber "achieved outstanding effectiveness" with a "technical skill, professional competence, and willingness to assume responsibilities far greater than those normally expected."

While in White Sands, Weber helped to implement the audio visual information system test -- "a new and revolutionary approach to the maintenance of radar equipment." Weber was commended for "his sound judgment, discernment and diplomacy" as well as "his perseverance, foresight, and professional knowledge" which insured the success of the highly technical project.

In February and March of 1965, range operations on Kwajalein required a black out across the island. Weber and Sgt. 1st Class Nick Charnego were victims of an automobile accident on Feb. 28, 1965. Walking back to their quarters after a party, Weber and Charnego were struck by a station wagon driven by a co-worker.

While Charnego was treated at the Kwajalein hospital, Weber, suffered more serious injuries and was evacuated to Tripler Hospital in Honolulu the next day. With continued improvement, on March 23, Weber transferred to William Beaumont Hospital at Fort Bliss, Texas. On April 29, however, Weber passed away at the age of 38. He was survived by his mother Elsie, wife Aria, and children Cynthia and Paul.

In January 1968, as the general order was issued, the newly named Power Ship Andrew Weber was still under construction. As part of the Nike-X complex on Kwajalein Missile Range, the ship was developed by General Electric company under a $9 million contract the Honolulu Engineering District of the Corps of Engineers.

Built upon a surplus World War II U.S. Navy dry dock, the MAR II Power Plant measured 240 feet long and 101 feet wide. Equipped with three 1,650-kw diesel generators and two 8,400 kw gas turbine sets, the floating power plant was designed to provide 20,000 kw of power, enough electricity for a community of 25,000 people, to support the Multifunction Array Radar II, a tactical version of the MAR, under construction on Kwajalein's Roi-Namur.

It was the first American floating power plant designed with both diesel and gas-turbine power units. With three modes of operation -- standby, surveillance and maximum traffic - the frequency and voltage could be controlled either from the barge itself ore remotely from Kwajalein Island.

In June 1968, however, while transiting the Panama Canal en route from Maryland to Kwajalein Missile Range, the Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor redeployed the Power Ship Andrew Weber, assigning it to the Panama Canal Zone. The Panama Canal Zone, which operated under the jurisdiction of the secretary of the Army on behalf of the president, received its electrical power from the hydroelectric plant on Gatun Lake.

In 1968, political unrest in the country coupled with a severe drought threatened the power supply. While in Panama, the USS Weber would supplement the USS Sturgis, the first floating nuclear power station. According to Corps of Engineer's records the combined operations of the Sturgis and the Andrew Weber, saved more than one trillion gallons between October 1968 and October 1972.

This volume of water would allow fifteen additional ships to pass through the Panama Canal each day supporting the increased traffic at the height of the Vietnam War.

During this period, the Andrew Weber remained under the jurisdiction of the Honolulu Engineering District giving it the largest geographical range of operations of all districts in the Corps. In spring 1970, however, management of the ship and the power plant transferred to the Office of the Corps of Engineers.

We next find the Andrew Weber in the records, in Fort Lauderdale in 1976. From 8 Nov. 8 to Dec. 15, 1976, an LT 529 ocean going tug from the Army's 73rd Transportation Company towed the Andrew Weber from Florida to Fort Belvoir, Virginia; where it probably joined the USS Sturgis in the James River Reserve Fleet outside Fort Eustis, Virginia.

On April 16, 2015, the USS Sturgis left the reserve fleet for Galveston, Texas to be decommissioned.

The USS Weber, on Oct. 1, 1977, along with other Army operated barges and ships, transferred to the U.S. Navy. In the next decade or so, the Andrew Weber made it to the Pacific Ocean with a transfer to Guam. There it would provide power to military bases and support the Guam Power Authority.

Following Typhoon Omar in 1992, the government of Guam authorized the refurbishment of the Andrew Weber to provide 16 megawatts of electricity to address the emergency requirements. As costs rose, however, the project was terminated in 1994.

The Andrew J. Weber was one of 16 vessels scuttled as part of a military target practice program in 2001. The 6,000 ton Andrew Weber was sunk July 19, 2001. It currently lies at a depth of 12,600 feet, about 250 nautical miles south east of Agana, Guam.

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