USNS Sisler (T-AKR 311)

The USNS Sisler is a Watson-class large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off ship (LMSR) launched in 1998 and named for George Kenton Sisler, a graduate of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro (Craighead County) who earned a posthumous Medal of Honor for valor during the Vietnam War.

Dexter, Missouri, native George Kenton Sisler was born in 1937 and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1964 shortly after his graduation from what is now Arkansas State University with an education degree. On February 7, 1967, while operating with a Special Forces unit and South Vietnamese troops deep behind enemy lines, Sisler and his comrades were attacked. Sisler carried wounded comrades into a defensive perimeter and fought off repeated enemy attacks before being mortally wounded while calling in air strikes. He was awarded a Medal of Honor on June 27, 1968.

In the early 1990s, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff conducted a study that concluded that the military needed expanded sealift capabilities to meet wartime and national emergency needs. The Military Sealift Command was created to operate LMSRs capable of transporting an entire army task force, including 900 trucks, fifty-eight tanks, and forty-eight other tracked vehicles.

Eight Watson-class LMSRs were built to pre-position vehicles, troops, and supplies in support of an army heavy brigade, including the USNS Sisler; a total of nineteen LMSRs were constructed, including five that were converted from container ships, among them the USNS Gilliland.

The National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego, California, received the contract to build the Sisler on October 20, 1994, and the vessel’s keel was laid down on April 15, 1997. The ship was christened on February 28, 1998, with Vice Admiral Jim Perkins saying at the dedication that “the 30 or so American merchant mariners who will crew the USNS Sisler will steam this aircraft-carrier-sized ship hard on every assigned mission. They will take her into harm’s way if need be as our merchant mariners have done since the Revolutionary War.” The ship was delivered to the U.S. Navy on December 1, 1998, and assigned to the Military Sealift Command.

The USNS Sisler is 951.4 feet long and 106 feet wide, capable of carrying nearly 63,000 tons of cargo in its 393,000-square-foot hold. With a draft of 34.1 feet, the Sisler can reach speeds of 24 knots with its two GE Marine LM gas turbine engines. The unarmed vessel features a landing area for helicopters. The Sisler’s crew can range from twenty-six to forty-five merchant mariners and up to fifty active-duty navy personnel.

The USNS Sisler is assigned to the Military Sealift Command’s Afloat Prepositioning Ship Squadron Four, based at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

For additional information:
“Large, Medium-Speed, Roll-On/Roll-Off Ships T-AKR.” United States Navy Fact File. (accessed July 17, 2020).

“Sisler Christened in San Diego Ceremony.” Military Sealift Command Public Affairs, March 4, 1998. (accessed July 17, 2020).

“USNS Sisler (T-AKR-311).” (accessed July 17, 2020).

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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