Learn about the HALSEY change of command and the story of their ship’s leadership team.
I recently attended the change of command of a former shipmate who just completed successful command of the Arleigh Burke destroyer, USS HALSEY (DDG 97) in San Diego. The destroyer HALSEY is named for World War II-era Admiral “Bull” Halsey. The change of command ceremony was nothing short of a one-hour master class in leadership, values, and what makes our country great. Discover the amazing people who graced the stage during this ceremony aboard the USS MIDWAY (CV 41) museum at San Diego while USS HALSEY is in a heavy yard period.
HALSEY Change of Command: Leadership
Commander Kelechi Ndukwe and I served together when I led the Navy’s Senate Liaison office. It was my final tour on active duty, but it was Kelechi’s first shore assignment. A small group of officers are residents on Capitol Hill to serve as an interface of the Navy with Congress, as well as to support international travel by the Senators and Congressmen. That was 15 years ago. See Commander Ndukwe’s full bio here.
As is typical of the change of command of a warship, this was a formal event intended to reinforce the authority of command. We are taught along the way of the seriousness of absolute accountability that comes with such great authority in command. Judging from the success of USS HALSEY during multiple significant international deployments under the leadership of Commander Ndukwe, he and the crew rose to every challenge.
Kelechi’s parents emigrated from Nigeria in the late 1970s. Kelechi’s father became an engineer and worked for several well-known industrial and automotive brands. Kelechi and his siblings are each graduates of the University of Notre Dame.
Commander Ndukwe was relieved by Commander Amanda Browning. Not so long ago, it was quite rare for women to command front-line warships. Today, it is a matter of routine. Commander Browning is anything but routine. See her impressive bio here. It was particularly poignant to observe her first ship captain, Captain Dan Keller, USN (Ret), pin her command pin during the ceremony. The impact Captain Keller had on then-Ensign Browning was truly enduring.Thankfully, we have people so willing to step up. Click To Tweet
Each outgoing and incoming captain of USS HALSEY was surrounded by former leaders with whom they had worked, current shipmates from the waterfront, and plenty of family members who all participate in the sacrifices of sea duty along the way.
The story of this change of command is even more pronounced. On the dais of the ceremony, sat the Command Master Chief, Suxyun Oonyu, first-generation Vietnamese-American. She is the senior enlisted member of the crew and a critical member of the leadership triad on HALSEY. A Hospital Corpsman, she has served at sea, ashore, and with marines multiple times. See her impressive bio here.
The master of ceremonies for the change of command was the ship’s Executive Officer, Commander Yilei Liu, first-generation Chinese-American. Commander Liu is originally from Wuhan, China and entered the Navy through the NROTC program at UCLA. See his impressive bio here.
The guest speaker was the Commodore of the Squadron, Captain Patrick O’Mahoney. Today, he commands Destroyer Squadron 23, originally made famous by then-Commodore Arleigh Burke at the Battle of Cape St. George in the Pacific. Commodore O’Mahoney’s words reflected on the history of service in the Pacific and linked us to present-day leadership exploits, while sitting at a ceremony aboard USS MIDWAY. See his impressive bio here.
Themes of Leadership
Each speaker, in their own words, identified common themes of leadership that brought them to this moment and sustained them during the challenges leading to command and throughout command. Ship, shipmates, self, trust, courage, fear, commitment, family, mentors, and leaders were just some of the terms that resonated. Each speaker recognized the interrelationships of each term and how a crew, families, and missions become intertwined in moments of time.
I left active duty 15 years ago, having served in six ships and been fortunate to command two. This was a breathtaking refresher course and a fantastic reminder of how great our country is. Throughout our nation’s history, there has been strife and discord. Today, the strife seems more amplified, in part because technology allows any message to be channeled or broadcast without cost or accountability. During a week of arguments about the righteousness of a search of a former President’s home or the fairness of forgiving student loan debt, it was truly refreshing to observe people committed to something absolutely bigger than themselves.
The Story of One Ship’s Leadership Team
Some readers of this newsletter and blog share a similar history of military service and have witnessed or participated in events similar to the one I describe here. Some have not had occasion to see this first hand. I hope this provides a very small glimpse—told in the story of one ship’s leadership team and observed in the course of a one-hour ceremony.
During the same weekend of the change of command of USS HALSEY, several other changes of command across all military services were also conducted around the world. We would find similar sterling biographies of the leaders associated with each.
As you consider the challenges of supply chains that we all seem able to identify today, a primary mission of the US Navy is to assure the safety and freedom of sea lanes of communication and commerce. The movie, Greyhound, in which Tom Hanks plays a ship captain during the Battle of the Atlantic, highlights what things look like when sea lanes are not free and open. Thankfully, we have the people like those described above so willing to step up.