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Billie J. Farrell, first woman to command the 224-year-old warship USS Constitution, takes over this week


History is being made aboard the U.S.S. Constitution this week.

Commander Billie J. Farrell is scheduled to become the first woman to lead the crew of the 224-year-old warship known as Old Ironsides during a change-of-command ceremony on Friday. She takes over from Commander John Benda, who has led the ship’s crew since February 2020.

USS Constitution New Commander
This undated photo released by the U.S. Navy shows U.S. Navy Commander Billie J. Farrell. 


/ AP

“I know the crew is in great hands with Commander Farrell,” Benda said in a statement. “This historic barrier is long overdue to be broken. I cannot think of a better candidate to serve as USS Constitution’s first female commanding officer.”

Farrell is a native of Paducah, Kentucky, a 2004 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and most recently served as the executive officer aboard U.S.S. Vicksburg, a guided missile cruiser, according to her Navy biography.

“I am honored to have the privilege to soon command this iconic warship that dates back to the roots of both our nation and our Navy and to have been afforded the amazing opportunity to serve as U.S.S. Constitution’s first female commanding officer in her 224 years,” Farrell said in a statement.

The Constitution, based at Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard, is the world’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat. It played a crucial role in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812 and defended sea lanes from 1797 until 1855. The ship was undefeated in battle and destroyed or captured 33 opposing vessels.

USS Constitution
In this July 24, 2017, file photo, the USS Constitution is docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.

Steven Senne / AP

It earned the nickname Old Ironsides during the war of 1812, when British cannonballs were seen bouncing off its wooden hull, according to the U.S. Navy.

The ship partners with the USS Constitution Museum “to promote maritime heritage, naval service and the legacy of Old Ironsides,” the Navy said.

The first woman to serve on the Constitution’s crew was enlisted sailor Rosemarie Lanam in 1986. The first woman to serve as a commissioned officer on the ship was Lieutenant Commander Claire V. Bloom, who served as executive officer and led the 1997 sail, the first time Old Ironsides had sailed under her own power since 1881.

It is crewed by active-duty sailors, about one-third of whom are women.

The ship, which underwent extensive restoration work in 2015, returned to Boston’s waters in 2017.

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