ABOARD USS CONSTITUTION, Mass. (NNS) -- The oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, USS Constitution, performed an underway demonstration for the first time in more than a decade to celebrate the anniversary date of its launch, Oct. 21, 1797.
The last time 'Old Ironsides' spent a birthday at sea was in 1997, in celebration of its bicentennial. This year, more than 300 people were aboard for the events; they included USS Constitution's crew, and members of the Naval History and Heritage Command, Boston's National Park Service and the USS Constitution Museum.
"Today marks the day when USS Constitution began her legacy of honor and service to our nation," said the ship's 71st and current commanding officer, Cmdr. Timothy Cooper, shortly after the vessel got underway. "Over two centuries of service, she has used both force and diplomacy to advance American interests all over the world. She is the most visible reminder of the beginnings of our Navy and her rich heritage continues to exemplify the finest traditions of honor, courage and commitment that define our service."
While underway, the ship fired shots from port and starboard saluting batteries in honor of the 16 states that comprised America when USS Constitution was launched in the late 18th century; one additional shot was fired in honor of the ship.
In accordance with a tradition among modern USS Constitution Sailors, on the ship's birthday two crew members were recognized by their shipmates and received the 2009 Command Leadership Award and the 2009 Berenson Award.
Builder 1st Class Juanita Esquivel was the recipient of the 2009 Command Leadership Award. "Petty Officer Esquivel's selection by a vote of her peers shows she has earned the respect and trust of each and every crew member, junior and senior," noted the award citation.
"Petty Officer Esquivel's professionalism and selfless devotion to duty reflected credit upon herself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
Airman Mark Alexander was named the 2009 Berenson Award recipient. "Selection by the crew as the top tour guide from the crew, Airman Alexander's has earned the respect and trust of all crew members, junior and senior," his citation reads. "Known for giving extremely informative and creative tours, he represented USS Constitution, as well as the Navy, proudly and with enthusiasm. Each tour sends people away with a sense of pride in our Navy and its glorious history."
In her years of active service, from 1798 - 1855, the three-masted wooden frigate fought in the Quasi-War with France, the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. Today, Old Ironsides' is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, has a permanent crew of about 75 active duty U.S. Navy Sailors, and is visited by nearly half a million people every year.
"This morning, we are again calling upon USS Constitution to perform her duty," Cooper said shortly before the ship returned to Pier One at the Charlestown Navy Yard. "While I don't expect that we will be fighting any battles or negotiating any treaties, I do think that we will be proving that USS Constitution continues to do her part for our country."
To learn more about USS Constitution, visit www.history.navy.mil/ussconstitution.
For more news from USS Constitution, visit www.navy.mil/local/constitution/.