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March 30, 2024 11 mins
The U.S.S. Constitution - affectionately dubbed "Old Ironsides" - is a symbol of resilience, strength, history and honor. It stands out on the Boston skyline, and so does the woman at the helm! Commander Billie J. Farrell is the first woman to ever command the vessel, leading dozens of sailors, and she's had a storied career in the Navy. In April, she'll be receiving the "Third Lantern" award from Old North Illuminated at the "Lanterns & Luminaries" event. Commander Farrell talks with Nichole about her journey through the Navy, what it's like living as a transplant in New England, the legacy she wants to leave behind to women in the service, and the upcoming award ceremony.
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(00:07):
From WBZ News Radio in Boston.This is New England Weekend. Each week
we come together, we talk aboutall the topics important to you and the
place where you live. It's sogood to be back with you on the
show again this week. As always, I'm Nicole Davis. The USS Constitution,
our beloved Old Ironsides here in Bostonis a symbol of strength and resilience,

(00:27):
of honor, and of history.It's the world's oldest commissioned warship that's
still afloat, and it's pretty hardto miss there on the Boston skyline.
While Old Ironside stands out, sodoes the woman at the helm. Commander
Billy J. Ferrell is a Navytrailblazer. She is the first woman ever
to command this vessel. She leadsa crew of almost eighty sailors day to
day, and by the way,more than a third of them are women.

(00:49):
Commander Farrell has spent almost twenty yearsin the Navy, breaking barriers and
proving that women can excel in anythingthey put their minds to. Because of
this, in April, she's gettinga special honor from Old North Illuminated.
She'll be honored at their lanterns andLuminaries event on the eleventh. So Commander
Farrell is here right now. We'regoing to talk about the event and of
course her career. Commander, itis wonderful to have you here, and

(01:11):
honestly, to start, I thinkI want to know more about what inspired
you to get into the service almosttwenty years ago. You know, when
did you realize, Okay, thisis what I want to do with my
life. So I was actually tenwhen this inspiration struck. Really, I
was channel surfing through the TV oneday found a Naval Academy graduation on TV.

(01:33):
I stopped and watched the whole ceremony, and as soon as it was
done, marched up to my parentsand told them I knew where I wanted
to go to school. So itstarted way back when. And then they
had to help me out from Kentucky, so not a lot of Navy presidence
in Kentucky. My parents actually hadto help me find mentors and people familiar
with navigating the Naval Academy application process, and I was fortunate enough to be

(01:53):
selected as a member of the classof two thousand and four. Wow.
Yeah, I went to Naval Academyfor four years, graduated is an instant
the United States Navy and as asurface warfare officer. So all that means
is my job description in the Navyis to fight and drive ships and to
lead sailors, which is what I'vedone for the past. Okay, look,
let's not negate what you do,because I certainly could not fight in

(02:15):
drive ships and lead sailors and doall that stuff. That's pretty impressive.
Like I would say that, youknow, there's not a lot of women
doing what you're doing either, sothat adds a whole other level to it.
So right now, especially in thisrole, the one thing that's been
really nice about it is lett Imean reflects on the number of women we
actually do having command of our shipsaround the world, and right now we
have over thirty women serving as captainsaround the world on ships in the United

(02:37):
States Navy. Wow, that isreally impressive. And you know, you're
a mother yourself, and looking atthat and seeing working women and seeing people
who are mothers, and seeing peoplewho are getting out there and breaking these
barriers. What does that mean toyou? It's very humbling. That's the
one thing I will say about thisposition. It gives me a lot of
opportunity to reflect on that. Andabsolutely I have an eight year old son

(03:00):
and a five year old daughter,and so for them to see that and
for them to be able to realizethey can achieve their dreams and whatever that
means is extra special. But I'venever been more humbled than sometimes when we're
out doing events and things and alittle kid comes up and says, I
want to be just like you whenI grow up. I love that.
So tell me a little bit thenabout your path to the Constitution. When

(03:22):
did this become a reality for you? How did this all come to pass?
So it actually came about about ayear before I actually got here to
the assignment in twenty twenty two.So the way the Navy works, so
again, my entire career has beenspent on ships or shore duty supporting ships
throughout my career, and so theway the Navy works is we have qualification

(03:43):
boards that select the most qualified candidatesfor either milestones and or promotion. And
so I was selected by a boardto be the captain of a ship with
about one hundred of my peers.And then from there it was time to
figure out what ship that was.And when I looked at the list and
saw that Constitution was an option.It was a separate application process, even
beyond the original qualification board to getselected for this position, but I felt

(04:08):
really strongly about it. I lovethe Navy, I love our heritage,
and this seems like a really niceway to share with people what we do
in the Navy and to hopefully inspirethe next generation. Now, you are
a Kentucky native, if I've donemy research right, and you've been all
over the world, but Boston,I think, and maybe it's just biased
because I've been here my entire lifein New England. What is life like

(04:30):
in New England? What are younoticing that's a little bit different from other
places? Sure, yeah, soI am from Kentucky. You were correcting
that since the one caveat I alwaystell people, though, is my husband
is just from north of Boston,h So, okay, there you go,
He's from BVD. So I've actuallyspent a lot of time in and
out of the area for the pasttwenty three years since we were midshipman at

(04:53):
the Naval Academy together, and soit's been great. It's been nice to
have my own connections though. Nowto to the area, We've loved our
time here. We've done as muchas we can. If we ever get
weekend opportunities, we try to justspend it in the city, taking advantage
and being tourists while we live here, because at some point we're going to
leave here shortly, and so wewant to make sure we have great memories.

(05:15):
The kids have great memories of livinghere in Boston. But it's been
really wonderful and we've loved every minuteof it. Well sure, and working
on the constitution. It's like anin house history lesson for your kids.
I mean, how direct to ahistory lesson? Can you get more than
that? Yeah? Absolutely, Ithink my kids are probably proficient enough to
give a quality level tour on theship as well, I have no doubt.
So, you know, speaking ofhistory, you are going to be

(05:36):
honored by Old North Illuminated. Theyrun Old North Church, the historic site.
For people who might know it better, is that you're getting a pretty
special honor. Tell us about this. So the Lanterns and Luminaries ceremony that's
scheduled to take place, I willbe honored with the third Lantern Award,
which was actually started as part ofthe bi centennial of the country to recognize

(05:58):
active citizenship and people making a change, and so I am definitely very honored
to be receiving that award. OldNorth Church and USS Constitution have lots of
connections throughout their history, so thisseems like another fitting way to tie the
two together. For example, CaptainSamuel Nicholson, the first commanding officer of
USS Constitution, is actually buried inthe crypsod Old North Church as well as
the first ship surgeon. They're actuallynext to each other down in the crypts.

(06:23):
And Paul Revere, who a lotof people know obviously for his Midnight
ride, also with a coppersmith whohelped provide material in the construction of Constitution
in both the form of her ship'sbell and the copper that actually was used
to cover the keel or excuse me, the hull underneath, which is part
of the reason we actually still haveoriginal wood left on that keel is because
it prevented woodworms and marine animals fromdeteriorating that would at a much faster rate.

(06:46):
So we have a strong connection withOld North So again, I'm very
honored to be receiving this award.Yeah, and you're going to be giving
the keynote speech. Do you haveany idea what you're going to say yet?
We're a few weeks out at thispoint, But how's the speech coming
together? It's coming together. Ithink a lot of it. And what
I've and kind of the whole timehere, what I've really reflected on is,
you know, the reason Constitution wasbuilt is freedom of the seas,

(07:09):
open shipping lanes, anti piracy.We had this established a navy and then
decided that was actually not a goodidea. We actually didn't need a navy,
and so that's what happened to convinceGeorge Washington and Congress to re establish
that. And if you look atthings that the Navy's doing around the world
today, it's actually very similar missions. And so history has a way of

(07:30):
maybe changing, but also you know, technology changes and things like that,
but sometimes the very root of whatwe do is very similar, if not
the same. And so I thinkthat's kind of the starting point that I'm
going to use with my talk tobring history into the modern day today.
When you do move on from theConstitution, what do you hope to leave
behind? I hope that I've strengthenedthe legacy of the ship that we've gained

(07:56):
some younger followers who again are inspiredby service and the mission of the Navy
and potentially look at what that meansif they're interested in joining the Navy or
any of the services. But Idefinitely I've spent a lot of my time
here doing making sure the maintenance onthe ship gets done correctly, getting that
set up for success because we haveboth the two hundred and fiftieth celebration of

(08:18):
the Navy coming up next year andobviously the two hundred and fiftieth of the
United States, to which Constitution willhave a huge part of that. So
a lot of my time has alsobeen spent making sure that she's going to
look the best that she can tocontinue that legacy and that she will be
with us into the future. Soit's been great. But yeah, June
twenty first, I will be turningthe ship over to the seventy eighth commander,

(08:39):
which will be a bittersweet day forsure. And it has been the
honor and privilege of my life toserve here as the captain. Well,
we're grateful that we've had you onour shores and running our beautiful piece of
history. So let's talk about thisevent where we can come and honor you
if we want to. The Lanternsand Luminaries event that's going to be happening
April eleventh, give us a rundownof what's going to be happening that night,

(09:00):
to be some sea fancies and somedifferent performances. They read the Midnight
Ride of Paul Revere, They doa lantern lighting reenactment if Paul Revere and
horseback, and then there are somerefreshments and things that will be there as
well, and then the crypts willbe opened as well as the church itself.

(09:20):
And I think there's some other maybemaritime related activities that they're planning that
I haven't fully heard about, butI'm sure we'll be wonderful. We'll get
to the details in just a littlebit about how people can find out to
get tickets and so on and soforth. But if you want to really
quickly talk about what's happening on theConstitution, if there's anything special going on
over there you want people to knowabout, or how people can come and

(09:41):
see what you've been working on overthere. Sure, yeah, absolutely so.
We actually just shifted to our summerhours following daylight saving time, so
right now. We're open for toursTuesday through Sunday ten am to six pm,
and we have sailors standing by toprovide tours of the ship. Again,
we are fully active duty crew,so about eight the active duty sailors
here to share their experiences in theNavy and to provide tours of the ship.

(10:05):
Other things we have coming up prettysoon. We actually have an Easter
egged hunt schedule on March thirtieth forchildren twelve and under. There's actually a
lottery very similar to our July fourthunderway open on our social media accounts right
now. That closes out here ina couple of days. And then on
Easter itself, we do a sunriseservice on the ship, long standing tradition

(10:26):
of over fifty years in the Shiftshistory, where we start Easter Sunday with
that sunrise service and that'll conclude withmorning colors when we actually fire the gun
at eight am like we do everymorning. So those are a couple of
the big events we have coming up, and then we'll be open for Patriots
Day and school vacation week as well, So lots of exciting things going on.
Commander Farrell, thank you so muchfor your time and congratulations on this

(10:48):
really incredible honor and all the bestto you. Thank you so much,
have a safe and healthy weekend.Happy Easter to you, by the way.
Join me again next week for anotheredition of the show. I'm Nicole
David's from WBZ News Radio on iHeartRadio.
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