An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : Media : News : Article View
NEWS | Aug. 10, 2023

The first female commanding officer of the USS Constitution shares career path with NUWC Division Newport workforce

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs

Dressed in a full chronistic USS Constitution uniform, Cmdr. Billie June “BJ” Farrell visited the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport on Aug. 1 to discuss the journey of her 19-year U.S. Navy career and her current position as the first female commanding officer of the historic frigate that is homeported in Boston National Historical Park in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

The presentation was hosted by the Federal Women’s Program and Division Newport’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Office, as part of a celebration for Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26.

Farrell said she was honored and humbled that her assignment as the first female commander on the Constitution made news across the world.

“In the sense of being the first woman, I really was not prepared for that — I applied for the job because I felt really passionately about it and I really wanted it,” Farrell said. “I thought it would be a quick touchpoint for the news, but it’s a testament to the ship and what she represents to the American people. The story of change of command was estimated to reach 2.7 billion people worldwide. It’s been really nice for me to reflect on that and its impact.”

Farrell sees the assignment as an opportunity to educate others about the role of women in the Navy.

“A lot of people don’t realize that women command ships — so what I get to do, is represent the over 30 women that we have in command of ships today and the over 70,000 women we have serving on active duty service,” she said. “That’s been the really nice part, to educate people about the bigger sense of the options that the Navy has and offers. It’s very humbling and every day that I get to walk on that ship, it truly is a privilege and an honor.”

Farrell leads a crew of 80 active duty Sailors, 40% of which are women. Their mission is to preserve, promote and protect the legacy of the world’s oldest commissioned ship afloat. The USS Constitution gets 3,000 to 5,000 visitors a day, and about 600,000 visitors per year, and crew members share stories of its remarkable history.

“USS Constitution is the one ship that remains of the original six frigates, named for the document that governs our country and to the oath that we all take to support and defend, which is really humbling,” Farrell said.

Fulfilling a lifelong dream

Originally from Paducah, Kentucky, Farrell had a strong desire to attend the U.S. Naval Academy at a young age.

“I was 10 years old when I was channel surfing one day and I saw a Naval Academy graduation on TV,” she said. “I stopped and watched the whole ceremony. When it was done I went up to my parents and said ‘I know where I want to go to school.’”

As a resident of a landlocked state, Farrell didn’t have much exposure to the Navy, so her parents stepped in to help find mentors and those who had served to make her dream a reality. Farrell even pitched herself to a local congressman for a nomination to get into the Naval Academy. The pitch paid off, as she was appointed to the Class of 2004 and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. After graduation, Farrell was commissioned as a surface warfare officer and embarked on her first tour aboard the USS Vella Gulf (CG-72), as an electrical officer. She then extended her tour aboard as the navigator.

After the two tours, Farrell reported to Commander, Naval Personnel Command in Millington, Tennessee, and became an action officer in PERS-833 (Post Selection Board Matters) and assumed duties as delay section head and assistant board screener in the Officer Misconduct Branch. In 2012, she went back to sea aboard the USS San Jacinto (CG-56) as the weapons officer and later became the ship’s combat systems officer.

Her next tour was as deputy director for professional development at the U.S. Naval Academy. Later she reported to Commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic as deputy N3. She then served as executive officer onboard USS Vicksburg (CG-69). On Jan. 21, 2022, she as appointed as the 77th commander and first female to assume command of USS Constitution and she has 10 months left on this assignment.

During a Q&A session, Farrell was asked about her greatest challenge during her service.

“I was the weapons officer and standing tactical action officer on USS San Jacinto, when a submarine named Montpelier surfaced right in front of us,” she said. “There was a collision, and I learned a lot about myself within a two-minute period. Everything happened so fast that there wasn’t really a chance to prepare for it. I remember standing up, trying to figure out where I was supposed to be, and then snapped out of it and told myself to stay calm and get everyone where they need to be to figure out what’s going on. We talk a lot about resiliency and toughness, and I think a lot of the training I had prepared me for that instead of panicking. My most rewarding jobs have been my most challenging and I was definitely grounded a lot in that experience.”

The USS Constitution, a three-masted, wooden-hulled frigate launched in Boston Harbor in 1797.

Though made from live oak and white oak, she earned the nickname, “Old Ironsides,” after the War of 1812 when British cannonballs were seen bouncing off the side of the hull. The USS Constitution was undefeated in battle, with a 33-0 record of destroying or capturing opponents.

“Ten to 15 percent of the ship today is still original,” Farrell said. “Mostly the keel and some of the pieces off of it which is actually a great testament to a guy you may have heard of, named Paul Revere. On top of being a silversmith and writing to alert that ‘the British were coming,’ he was also a coppersmith, so he provided copper to help make the pins of the ship and cover the hull in a sheet of copper to help preserve it and prevent it from deteriorating.”

After the War of 1812, USS Constitution was repurposed, sailed on an around-the-world cruise, went to the U.S. Naval Academy as a trading ship during the Civil War, then sailed up to Newport, Rhode Island, to re-establish the Naval Academy. Once the Civil War was over, the ship sailed back down to Annapolis, Maryland.

USS Constitution later went to a shipyard in Kittery, Maine, and fell into a state of dis-repair. The Navy had plans to use it for target practice, but the American people fought against this decision, and the historic ship was saved thanks to a campaign called the “Pennies Campaign.” School children from all over the country sent in change, raising $154,000 to restore her. Once restored, the USS Constitution embarked on an around-the-country tour, and then returned back to Boston where it’s been ever since.

The USS Constitution still sets sail for veteran commemorations, Independence Day, and on the ship’s birthday, Oct. 21. USS Constitution is open for tours and events. To find out more about the ship’s history visit

NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.

Join our team! NUWC Division Newport, one of the 20 largest employers in Rhode Island, employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts who wish to be at the forefront of undersea research and development. Please connect with NUWC Division Newport Recruiting at this site- and follow us on LinkedIn @NUWC-Newport and on Facebook @NUWCNewport.