Harlan County (LST-1196) was named after counties in Kentucky and Nebraska. She was laid down on 7 November 1970 at San Diego, Calif., by the National Steel & Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 24 July 1971; sponsored by Mrs. Richard Capen; and commissioned on 8 April 1972, Comdr. Vernon C. Smith in command.
Following commissioning, Harlan County was assigned to the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet, and transited the Panama Canal en route to her home port of Little Creek, Va. In the years that followed, the tank landing ship alternated amphibious training operations along the east coast of the United States and in the Caribbean with regular, sustained deployments to the Mediterranean. This cycle continued into 1980.