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|In the 1950's the US Navy was assigned the task of
extending the DEW Line seaward. To accomplish this task the Navy
looked for a ship that would offer a stable platform for all of the
electronics and radar that would be needed to be carried aboard ship.
The type of ship decided on was World War II Liberty Ships, the best type would be the box-aircraft type (Z-ECS-S-C5).
In 1954 the conversion of these ships started. This new class of ship would be called the Guardian Class and they would be classified as YAGR. At the end of these conversions in 1959 there would be sixteen (16) of these ships eight (8) home-ported at Treasure Island, CA and eight (8) at Davisville, RI. The "Y" was dropped in 1958, and all the picket ships were designated AGR.
After these conversions the ships did not change their outward appearance much, except for their distinct radars-one of which was a special SPS-17A antenna designed specifically for these ships. However the interior was something else. The most powerful and modern air and surface radars and communications equipment were installed; as not only would these ships extend radar coverage seaward, they would track and direct aircraft, report weather conditions and numerous other tasks.
Because these ships would spend so much time at sea, usually 60 to 70 percent each year (220 to 250 days), the Navy realized that habitability would be a prime concern. So living conditions were nothing like any other Navy ship. The Officers had their own private state room, CPO's shared a state room with another CPO, 1st class PO's shared a state room with 4 men and the crew had CPO type bunks with mattresses. The crew's berthing compartments on some ships were set up to create 4 man cubicles by using lockers to form them. On some ships the berthing compartments were even air conditioned. This was unheard of at the time in the Navy.
The mess decks were not unlike a civilian restaurant, and the food rivaled shore base galleys. The mess decks were done in cheerful colors and on many ships, turned into the unofficial crew's lounge, even though there was a space designated as a crew's lounge in another part of the ship.
To help avoid boredom on these long periods at sea, each ship came up with ingenious ways to entertain the crew. During periods at sea, fishing tournaments would be held, shooting practice, skeet shooting, swim call and, of course, sun bathing on the the southern stations would help pass the time. As they were converted freighters, there was plenty of space aboard ship. All ships had a movie theater set up in one of the cargo holds. The other cargo holds were put to good use as basketball courts, archery ranges, weight lifting rooms, libraries, wood working shops, volley ball courts or anything else the crews could come up with. One ship even had a small swimming pool.
Even with all the above, it was still tedious and boring duty.
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