By: Cmdr. Emily Bassett, commanding officer, Littoral Combat Ship Crew 214, Pre-Commissioning Unit Manchester (LCS 14)
The commissioning ceremony was originally about ball caps. Before the rehearsal, I told my crew, “If you have any family or friends who will be with us today—in person, or in spirit, and you want me to mention them by name, let me know.” Then, one Sailor approached me, “Ma’am, my mom couldn’t be here today. Could you stream it on Facebook Live?” So, I handed my cell phone to a friend seated in the bleachers at our ceremony on the grass next to the Vietnam Memorial at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, and we went live. Our attendance of 50 turned into close to 500.
The littoral combat ship program has been going through major transitions, one of which is assigning a crew to only one ship, and adopting a blue-gold rotation. Crew 214 is the pre-commissioning crew for Manchester, and our identity is all about Manchester, New Hampshire. We’ve visited the city and met the city’s mayor. Our ship sponsor, New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, sent a personal note for our ceremony’s program. As a crew, we designed the ship’s crest, the brow banner and the ball caps.
Now, we wanted to make a special moment out of sun-downing the 8-point standard Navy Working Uniform (NWU) cover, and replacing it with our “USS Manchester” ball caps. I would read my orders and don my command-at-sea pin.
Turns out, it wasn’t just about ball caps. It was about character, competence and connections. Capt. Jay Hennessey, commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare Center, was our guest speaker. To many of us, SEALs are the epitome of character and competence. But beyond that, he told us about the importance of connection — of teammates, crewmates.
He said, “Teammate. It’s synonymous with crew. It’s synonymous with shipmate. Teammate, for me, in Naval Special Warfare, is the highest accolade I could pay someone. Because when I call someone a teammate, I mean they have three things. They are a person that is trustworthy, that is competent, and a person with whom I want to serve. You can’t do two of the three. You can’t be trustworthy and competent, but someone we don’t like. You’ve got to have to have all three.”
Then, he broke with his normal protocol of handing out a personalized command coin after a job well done, after a Sailor has demonstrated excellence as a teammate. Instead, he handed out two coins, to two crewmembers, for “excellence in advance,” investing in these two Sailors, that they would spread their competence, their trustworthiness, and their desire to be wanted as a teammate by the rest of the crew.
As command senior chief and I handed out Manchester ball caps, each Sailor exchanged a ball cap for a word: a character trait they wanted to develop while part of our crew. I was deeply moved by each Sailor’s word. I heard dependability, patience, trustworthiness, diversity, leadership, empathy, flexibility, perseverance, fairness, loyalty, humility. Remarkably, there was no trait I heard twice. The executive officer and I exchanged traits. He called “Uncover. Two,” and “Cover. Two,” and in unison, we donned the cover of our new ship.
After that simple ritual, I felt a deep connection with my crew. Then, while I spoke, that connection spread to our gathered guests. A few Sailors broke ranks and handed out small tokens to each guest. They were candles, in a clear glass with a sticker of the Manchester crest on one side and one sticker of the crew logo on the other. Light these candles, I said, and remember that you are with us in spirit in the future as you are with us physically today.
Then I turned to my scribbled notes and named the honored guests: parents, siblings, in-laws, grandparents, a mother watching us on Facebook Live, and even one Sailor’s late grandfather whom he wanted remembered. I realized how deeply connected we all are. It wasn’t just about the ball caps.