LCS Crew 214: Competence, Character, Connection, Paid in Advance

By Cmdr. Emily Bassett
Commanding Officer, Littoral Combat Ship Crew 214, Pre-Commissioning Unit Manchester (LCS 14)

Editor’s note: Unlike other surface Navy communities, littoral combat ship crews have the unique honor of being commissioned as a crew even before their ship is commissioned.  An LCS crew must be fully certified before being commissioned and before arriving on-hull.

PCU Manchester (LCS 14) command ball cap.
PCU Manchester (LCS 14) command ball cap.

Originally, LCS Crew 214’s commissioning ceremony was 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, November 10, 2016, 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 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 NWU cover, and replacing it with our “USS Manchester” ball caps. I would read my orders and don my command-at-sea pin.

Cmdr. Kurt Braeckel, executive officer, pins Cmdr Bassett's Command at Sea badge.
Cmdr. Kurt Braeckel, executive officer, pins Cmdr Bassett’s Command at Sea badge.

 

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 and crewmates.

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Capt. Jay Hennessey, commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare Center, speaks to LCS Crew 214 and guests.

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 crew members telling them he expected “excellence in advance,” and that he was 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.

Capt Hennessey presents a command coin to Seaman Apprentice Tyler Burkhart.
Capt Hennessey presents a command coin to Seaman Apprentice Tyler Burkhart.

 

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.

Cmdr. Emily Bassett, commanding officer, littoral combat ship (LCS) crew 214, passes out command ball caps during a commissioning ceremony. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher A. Veloicaza/Released)
Cmdr. Emily Bassett, commanding officer, littoral combat ship (LCS) crew 214, passes out command ball caps during a commissioning ceremony. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher A. Veloicaza/Released)

 

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.

Editor’s note: Crew 214 is expected to be the on-hull crew for USS Manchester (LCS 14)’s commissioning in early 2018.