First woman to lead the USS Constitution takes over Friday

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Cmdr. Billie J. Farrell will lead the crew of the 224-year-old warship known as the Old Ironsides.

This undated image released by the US Navy shows the US Navy Cmdr. Billie J. Farrell. Farrell is scheduled to be the first woman to lead the crew of the USS Constitution, the 224-year-old warship known as Old Ironsides, during a change-of-command ceremony scheduled for Friday, January 21, 2022. Farrell takes over from Cmdr. John Benda, who has led the ship’s crew since February 2020. US Navy via AP

BOSTON (AP) – History is being written aboard the USS Constitution this week.

Cmdr. Billie J. Farrell is scheduled to be 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 after Cmdr. John Benda, who has led the ship’s crew since February 2020.

Jonathan Wiggs / Globe Staff
The USS Constitution took the first Boston Harbor excursion of the year in May last year. The ship was out of Fort Independence (Castle Island), where it fired a salute of 21 cannons for the enjoyment of the audience.

Farrell is based in Paducah, Kentucky, trained in 2004 from the US Naval Academy, and most recently served as the executive officer aboard the USS Vicksburg, a guided missile cruiser, according to her naval biography.

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

It was nicknamed Old Ironsides during the war of 1812, when British cannonballs were seen jumping off the wooden hull.

It is occupied by active seafarers, about a third of whom are women.

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