"Old Ironsides" Celebrates 210th Birthday

Story Number: NNS071026-16Release Date: 10/26/2007 3:28:00 PM
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By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Eric Brown, USS Constitution Public Affairs

CHARLESTOWN NAVY YARD, Mass. (NNS) -- On Oct. 21, USS Constitution - the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world - turned 210 years old.

To celebrate, more than 60 of her officers and crew members held the annual "Grog Ceremony" on her decks, with a party that also involved a birthday cake, and the presentation of the prestigious Berenson Award and the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts Leadership Award.

The Berenson award is given annually to the junior crew member who best exemplifies the spirit and ideals of the ship's crew during her sailing days, and has consistently demonstrated the highest standards of conduct, loyalty and dedication to the pride of the ship.

In his remarks, ship's 70th and current Commanding Officer, Cmdr. William A. Bullard III, spoke of USS Constitution's history, legacy, and role in today's Navy and world.

"On Oct. 21, 1797, after two unsuccessful attempts, United States Frigate Constitution slid down the ways and into Boston Harbor, with not a lot of fanfare," he said. "'Why would there have been a lot of fanfare?' A lot of people in the country didn't think we needed a Navy at the time - peace could have been bought from our enemies, the Barbary pirates. 'What was there for this ship, and this Navy, to do?' Well, there was quite a bit."

In an active service career that spanned more than half a century, USS Constitution served in the Barbary Wars, Quasi-War with France and the War of 1812. All told, she fought in 33 engagements, and emerged victorious in each.

"This ship has continued to inspire a nation and it's Navy - the Navy that this ship gave birth to, the Navy that fought to preserve the union, the Navy that made this country a global power, the Navy that has working tirelessly to deter and eliminate the enemies of the document that USS Constitution was named after," Bullard said.

During the ceremony, crew member Seaman Nola Sparks was presented with the Berenson Award.

"Known for giving historically detailed and entertaining tours, she represented USS Constitution, a well as the Navy proudly and professionally," the awards citation noted. "Seaman Sparks was consistently hand-selected to give tours to senior military officers and high-ranking government officials, instilling in them a sense of pride in our Navy, USS Constitution and our country."

Storekeeper 1st Class (SW) Edwin Arango was named the 2007 recipient of the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts Leadership Award.

According to his citation, "Petty Officer Arango was chosen by his peers as the Sailor who consistently displayed the finest leadership qualities, and earned the highest respect and trust of all crew members."

The ship celebrated her birthday on Oct. 21 with a makeover - a $7 million maintenance availability that began Oct. 1 and is projected to last two years. It is her first overhaul since the mid-1990s, when she spent three years in drydock to correct hogging to her keel, among other things.

For this maintenance availability, most of the work will be performed on the ship's spar (top) deck, which will not require that the frigate be put into drydock.
"Everything that is freestanding on the spar deck, such as the guns, will be removed," said the command's Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman (SS) Don Abele. "Additionally, the yards will be removed from the masts, and the masts will be lowered to about a third of their original height."

This maintenance will not impact tours to nearly a half a million visitors a year, because only about a third of the deck will be renovated and replaced at any given time.

"In the ship's original configuration, there was a camber - or crown - on the deck that would have allowed water to wash off to scuppers, then overboard," he said. "We don't have those scuppers or the crowned deck now, so we have a lot of problems with standing water. We will strip the entire spar deck down to the support beams, restore that camber, and replace the Douglas fir decking with the original type of wood -- white oak and yellow pine."

The object of the renovations is not to make the 210-year-old ship "good as new," but rather as "good as old," that is, when she was in her prime fighting days during the War of 1812. Although she has been a non-operational asset to the Navy for more than 150 years, this restoration allows her to continue her mission of inspiring and educating people from around the world.

"How successful we are depends on how we get the message of USS Constitution, of the Navy, of our freedom and democracy, out to the country and the world," Bullard concluded. "We will continue to do that in new and better ways."

For more news from USS Constitution, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/constitution/.

USS Constitution sails under her own power, manned by more than 150 sailors selected for promotion to chief petty officer.
Official U.S. Navy file photo of USS Constitution sails under her own power, manned by more than 150 Sailors selected for promotion to chief petty officer. At 209 years old, "Old Ironsides" is the oldest commissioned warship afloat. It is normally manned by 64 active-duty Navy Sailors, and visited by nearly half a million tourists annually.
September 11, 2007
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