Paducah native serving as 77th commander of U.S.S Constitution
The story has been updated to accurately represent the U.S.S. Constitution's home port.
A Paducah native now commands the oldest commissioned vessel of the U.S. Navy. Commander Billie J. Ferrell became the 77th commander of the U.S.S. Constitution.
The 225-year-old battleship is docked at Charlestown, Massachusetts. The ship is listed as a battleground, in honor of the sailors who died fighting on it. The ship is known for its service during the War of 1812 where it received its famous nickname “Old Ironsides” due to its ability to win battles without sustaining much damage.
Ferrell visited the U.S.S. Constitution when she was in high school. She was photographed standing on the docks next to it. When she found out she was going to be the ship’s first female commander, her first instinct was to find the picture.
“I really wanted to reflect on the moment it happened,” Ferrell said. “Everyday that I come to the ship I am humbled to be entrusted with such an amazing piece of American and Naval history.”
Ferrell was inspired to join the Navy after she watched a Naval Academy graduation ceremony on television. During her years in middle school and high school she studied how to join the Navy before being accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy’s Class of 2004.
Ferrell was commissioned as a Surface Warfare Officer meaning she fights and drives ships. Before taking command of the U.S.S Constitution she was the Executive Officer of the U.S.S. Vicksburg – a Ticonderoga Class Cruiser with a crew of 330 sailors.
“On a day to day basis the most rewarding part of the Navy is working with all the sailors and the privilege of getting to lead them everyday,” Ferrell said. “I have also been on several deployments on the East Coast of the U.S., the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and The Arabian Gulf.”
The U.S. Navy has special boards to help select commanders for its ships. Ferrell was given the opportunity to apply for command of the U.S.S Constitution where she went through a selection process and was eventually given command of the ship on Jan. 21.
The Paducah native says it was hard work learning the ship’s ropes but it’s been very rewarding. Her and her crew are currently preparing to take the ship out to sea for one of its seven annual voyages. Ferrell treasures the way she’s able to interact with her nation’s past on a daily basis.
“So often, when we read books and study history we rarely get to walk on that deck and touch and experience it first hand,” she said. “[The U.S.S Constitution] is also a huge tribute to the perseverance and dedication to our sailors and our nation and where we started establishing ourselves as a country.”