Home History Old Ironsides Gets its First Female Commanding Officer

Old Ironsides Gets its First Female Commanding Officer

by Enochadmin

For the primary time within the 224 years since its maiden voyage the heavy frigate USS Structure [ussconstitutionmuseum.org] has a feminine captain. Cmdr. Billie J. Farrell took the helm of the world’s oldest commissioned warship nonetheless afloat throughout a change-of-command ceremony in Boston Harbor in January 2022. Amongst different assignments, the 2004 U.S. Naval Academy graduate beforehand served because the fight programs officer on USS San Jacinto (CG 56) and the manager officer aboard USS Vicksburg (CG 69), each guided missile cruisers. The mom of two younger kids, she is married to a fellow Navy officer, Cmdr. Paul Farrell. Army Historical past caught up with the brand new skipper of “Previous Ironsides” to get her ideas about serving on such a historic ship.

Cmdr. Billie Farrell
(Randy Glass Studio)

How does it really feel to be the primary girl to command Structure?

It’s wonderful. It’s only a nice alternative to be right here and be on this place. Ladies have been serving as commanders of combatants for the Navy since 1998. Whereas it’s distinctive for this ship, it isn’t distinctive for the floor Navy. And so I get to be the consultant to focus on the truth that we’ve ladies in charge of ships all the world over proper now. Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt of USS Abraham Lincoln is the primary girl in charge of an plane provider on deployment. Greater than 70,000 ladies serve within the Navy right now. This offers an important platform to showcase the wonderful issues they’re doing the world over.

You served on guided missile cruisers. How does this command evaluate? 

It’s a bit completely different [laughs]! Not the identical weapons system I’m used to. There are some things to study, for certain, particularly with 224 years of historical past. The foundations are literally just about the identical: The arduous work, dedication, drills, issues sailors needed to do 224 years in the past, we nonetheless need to do in right now’s Navy. Constitution was undefeated in battle; she was 33 and 0. A part of the explanation she was so profitable was the drills the captains had the crews do. They ran gun drills greater than their adversaries and have been in a position to lower the time it took to get rounds downrange. We depend on the identical ability units right now—consideration to element and staying proficient. It’s a good reminder of the place we have been, the place we’re and the place we’re going. That is the place the Navy began. This ship’s mission remains to be a mission we’ve right now: safety and freedom of the seas.

A number of my job depends on the day-to-day operations of the ship right here after which engagement with the group. I make it a degree to return on the ship a minimum of as soon as a day, particularly if I see a big tour group. I like to return over and say whats up sporting my 1812 uniform. The boots are very slick, although. They don’t have any tread on them, so I’ve to watch out.

How did you put together for this two-year project? 

It’s undoubtedly completely different. A part of our mission is to protect, promote and shield the legacy of Structure. A big a part of what we do is targeted on the historical past and telling that story. However we’re additionally a part of the Navy. Half of our crew are first-term sailors. Once they go away right here, they’re going to do the roles they have been assigned of their charges, so we’ve to ensure they’re prepared to do this as effectively. We now have to stability the challenges of 224 years in the past with the challenges of 2022. We do sail coaching on sure days, so we will do our “underways” successfully and safely. However then we’ve to do, say, cyber consciousness coaching, as a result of that’s one thing the Navy says we have to do and to remain proficient in.

Structure’s first captain was Samuel Nicholson (1798–99), and also you’re the 77th. How does that legacy strike you?

That’s one other factor I’m at all times in awe of. Proper exterior this bulkhead is the checklist of all of the earlier commanding officers. Whenever you have a look at these names, there’s something to be discovered from each a kind of people—all the way in which again to Nicholson. It’s a testomony to their consideration to element and work ethics and the teachings they drove into their crews that made them profitable. And that’s the ability set we nonetheless depend on closely right now.

What’s it like studying the ropes on a ship like this?

It’s all an inside program. The Navy doesn’t have any colleges to show you how one can sail a square-rigged ship anymore. I really like explaining to company that that is the place the phrase “studying the ropes” comes from—the rigging of a crusing ship. We now have applications to coach our sailors to do the issues they should do to be protected and efficient. For me, I believe the final time I sailed on a ship like this was on the Naval Academy throughout “Fleet Summer time.” We skilled on 44-foot sailboats. Nonetheless barely completely different than this ship, nevertheless it undoubtedly gave me an appreciation, even in that scale, for the way a lot work it entails to really sail a vessel. 

We do sail coaching year-round, even in winter. We do lectures. We now have a mock-up room in one of many buildings so sailors can apply climbing the rigging. Then we do the issues that some other Navy ship would do when it goes out. We examine the tides, currents and climate. We do our briefs with communications and discuss to the pilots. We now have to do all the identical issues a contemporary Navy ship does.

Are there any Twenty first-century conveniences or applied sciences aboard Structure?

No. That is an 18th-century crusing vessel. No motor, no fashionable communication system, no radar. We exit underneath whole sail energy. We do have electrical energy and a few injury management. In any other case, she’s true to what she would have been again within the day. We don’t even have warmth, so it will get very chilly on the ship within the winter. I’m planning to spend a couple of nights within the captain’s quarters, however solely when it’s heat.

We sail seven instances a 12 months on completely different cruises, often to honor sure teams. We now have partnership with Vietnam veterans, and we take them out yearly. July 4 is the massive one—after we flip the ship round so it wears evenly on the dock—and that’s open for a public lottery. We’ve been encouraging individuals to enroll in the once-in-a-lifetime probability to get underway with us by visiting our social media pages. We often take out 150 individuals, although final 12 months we solely did 25 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Do you adhere to any explicit ceremonial duties?

We do colours twice a day—at 8 a.m. and sundown. Each morning and night we do the flag and fireplace the gun. You’ll be able to set your watch by it. We additionally do the usual 12 o’clock experiences, which is one thing we nonetheless do on all Navy ships. It’s rooted in custom. Daily a sailor tells me they’ve the each day experiences prepared and requests permission to strike eight bells. 

The Navy has finished an important job sustaining these traditions. It’s so arduous typically for organizations to carry on to that, and we’ve managed to do it. Even with the 1812 uniforms and right now’s service gown blues, you’ll be able to see the similarity between them. We nonetheless put on the Navy blue jacket with the white shirt, black neck tab and gold buttons. 

We nonetheless do captain’s mast, which comes from “laying earlier than the mast” for judgement from the captain. Most ships don’t have masts anymore, however we use phrases which might be tied to our previous.

Do you might have a favourite story about Structure

The August 1812 battle with HMS Guerrière is essentially the most iconic. It’s the one everyone is aware of, however that’s for a cause. The ship’s nickname, “Previous Ironsides,” got here from that battle. They [the crew] noticed the enemy cannonballs bouncing off the ship’s sides, and the title caught. It’s a tremendous story of perseverance, dedication and successful.

USS Constitution engages HMS Guerrière
On Aug. 19, 1812, two months after america declared warfare on Britain, Structure (at proper) engaged HMS Guerrière off Nova Scotia, dismasting and sinking its smaller opponent.
(Naval HIstory and Heritage Command)

What prompted you to hitch the Navy?

I noticed a Naval Academy commencement on TV after I was in sixth grade. I instantly went to my dad and mom and stated, “That’s the place I’m going to go to high school,” which made my dad very excited. On the time, my mother stated, “You’ll be able to’t do this—they don’t let ladies go there,” which wasn’t true however that’s what she thought then. I had utterly forgotten that story till she jogged my memory about it lately. She didn’t know the primary feminine class graduated in 1980. In her thoughts that was simply one thing her child lady was not going to be doing. 

I made a decision that’s what I needed. It might be an important schooling and an important probability to serve my nation. I had a highschool physics instructor who was a retired Navy captain. He took me underneath his wing and helped me via the applying course of. I additionally had a neighbor who was a retired Navy captain who favored to take a seat round and inform sea tales, which made me wish to do it much more.

Inform us about your first go to to Structure, if you have been in highschool.

It was a household trip, a really lengthy street journey. We truly went to the Naval Academy earlier within the journey so I may have a look at the campus. There’s an image of me standing subsequent to the ship sporting a Navy hat, as a result of we had simply come from Annapolis. As destiny would have it, we stopped right here and snapped that image. The very first thing I did after I discovered I used to be chosen for this project was to return to the picture album and discover it.

On the time did you surprise what it may be prefer to command Structure

No, under no circumstances. I keep in mind simply being in awe of the ship. The second you stroll onboard “Previous Ironsides” you are feeling the historical past. She’s lovely. You’re feeling the presence of all these individuals who have served right here and gave their lives on these decks. There’s no approach I may have predicted that 24 years later I might be in charge of this ship. And I’m very privileged to have the ability to achieve this. 

Modern image of USS Constitution
At this time the one broadsides fired by Structure are ceremonial in nature.
(David L. Ryan/Boston Globe (Getty Pictures))

Do you might have any plans throughout your time in command?

The ship turns 225 this 12 months, so my focus proper now’s making that the most effective celebration we will. We’re doing outreach applications so the general public will come and go to the ship. We’re pushing that extra this 12 months to succeed in a much bigger viewers due to the anniversary. We’re America’s ship, homeported right here in Boston. We’re open for the whole nation to go to and excited to host anyone who needs to return see us.

What are you most wanting ahead to as commander?

I’m wanting ahead to all of it. I wish to share my love of the Navy and this ship with the general public and the crew. Our 80 active-duty sailors are phenomenal. They arrive right here on special-duty orders. They’re handpicked as a result of they wish to be right here and wish to inform the story of the ship. To get to work with them is simply an superior alternative.


this text first appeared in Army Historical past journal

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