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'Perfect leader' | Kentucky native becomes first woman to command USS Constitution

Cmdr. Billie J. Farrell is a Paducah native and now, the first woman to lead the crew of the 224-year-old warship known as Old Ironsides.

BOSTON — Salute!

History has been made aboard the U.S.S. Constitution. Kentucky native and Cmdr. Billie J. Farrell became the first woman to lead the crew of the 224-year-old warship known as Old Ironsides. 

Cmdr. Farrell on Friday became the 77th commanding officer of the warship.  She replaces Cmdr. John Benda, who has led the ship’s crew since February 2020.

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.

Credit: U.S. Navy via AP
This undated photo released by the U.S. Navy shows U.S. Navy Cmdr. Billie J. Farrell. Farrell is scheduled to become 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, Jan. 21, 2022. Farrell takes over from Cmdr. John Benda, who has led the ship's crew since February of 2020. (U.S. Navy via AP)

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said during the ceremony at Boston's Charlestown Navy Yard that Farrell is “the perfect leader to take command of this historic ship at this historic time.” 

Farrell says the ship's historical significance is not lost on her.

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.

It earned the nickname Old Ironsides during the war of 1812 when British cannonballs were seen bouncing off its wooden hull.

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

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