Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Michael Johnson, joined by the Executive Officer, Cmdr. Aaron Helgerson, and his Command Master Chief Dennisha McElveen, addressed the crew aboard USS Billings (LCS 15) at the traditional Mast Stepping Ceremony, April, 2 2019.
“The Navy is steeped in tradition,” said Cmdr. Johnson. “It’s a part of everything we do. This Mast Stepping is one of many traditions we will follow and honor on our path to commissioning Billings, bringing her to fleet service.”
The maritime tradition of mast stepping is said to have its origins in ancient Greek and Roman customs. Due to the dangers of early sea travel, coins were placed under the mast to pay Charon, the ferryman, for transporting the dead across the River Styx and into the afterlife. The tradition took hold world- wide, and nautical communities began placing coins beneath the mast as a symbol of good luck and fortune for the ship.
“The Mast stepping ceremony is a ceremonial occasion,” said Cmdr. Helgerson. “Today’s ceremony centers around the placement of mementos into the base of our ship’s mast, an important and time-honored practice aimed at laying the foundational character of our ship. The items we are about to place in Billings’ mast will not only serve as a gesture to secure safe passage and blessings to her crew, but also celebrate her birth and lay the foundation of her character and heritage.”
The container, that gets welded to the mast, was comprised of dog tags for each of the commissioning crew members, a vial of soil from the ship’s Sponsor, Mrs. Sharla Tester’s farm, a coin from the Billings Commissioning Committee, a coin from the Command Master Chief, and other memorabilia from the ship’s namesake city of Billings, Montana.
The ceremony, though quaint, holds quite a sentimental value to the crew. Working towards the momentous day since the crew’s formation in 2017, the Mast Stepping Ceremony also celebrates the crew’s first day living on board.
“It’s real,” said Electricians Mate 1st Class Matthew Kennedy, a native of Crestwood, Ky. “I can touch the gear, the equipment, the radars, and the antennas that I’ve written instructions for and have gone to school to learn about. Now I own it; It’s mine.”
PCU Billings is the eighth Freedom Class Variant constructed by Lockheed-Martin. She is currently at Fincantieri Marinette Marine Shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin and will sail across the Great Lakes, through 16 lochs and the Saint Lawrence River, out to the Atlantic Ocean, and then navigate south down to Mayport, Florida where she will be home ported. The Billings will commission in Key West, Fla. later this year.
LCS is a highly maneuverable, lethal and adaptable ship designed to support focused mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, and surface warfare missions. LCS integrates new technology and capability to affordably support current and future mission capability from deep water to the littorals.
Littoral Combat Ship Squadron Two