USS Constitution Starts New Chapter with 72nd Commanding Officer

USS Constitution changed commanding officers in a ceremony on board the ship in Charlestown, Mass., July 22.

Cmdr. Matt Bonner relieved Constitution’s 71st commanding officer, Cmdr. Tim Cooper in a turnover that drew more than 300 guests.

“It is a distinct honor and very humbling to take command of this historic warship,” said Bonner. “I am very excited and grateful for the opportunity to lead the tremendous Sailors that man Constitution.”

Navy Band Northeast kicked off the ceremony at 10 a.m. by performing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Director, Navy Staff, Vice Adm. John Bird, Constitution’s parent commander, provided the opening remarks after retired Capt. William Cuddy, a Navy chaplain, gave the invocation.

Bird also presented Cooper with his third Meritorious Service Medal.

“Today, we celebrate Cmdr. Cooper’s tour as Constitution’s 71st commanding officer,” said Bird. “He has executed his duties as well as anyone. He represents the tradition of our finest commanding officers. I know Cmdr. Bonner will carry on the tradition.”

Additionally, Constitution Command Master Chief Roxanne Rhoades gave Cooper a farewell shadow box on behalf of Constitution’s chief petty officer mess. The wooden box contained the ship’s commissioning pennant and a brass plate inscribed with Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem, “Old Ironsides.”

Cooper, as required by naval regulations and tradition, read to Constitution’s crew the orders officially relieving him of command, turning over duties to Bonner. Bonner next read his orders to the crew assuming the position as Constitution’s new commanding officer, concluding the ceremony at approximately 10:45 a.m.

“These past two years have been the single best experience of my naval career,” said Cooper. “I have been absolutely privileged to serve with the finest young men and women in the Navy. While I wish I could stay longer, I consider myself lucky to be able to turn command of ‘Old Ironsides’ over to Cmdr. Matt Bonner. I hope he has as great an experience as I did.”

Bonner, born and raised in Seaford, N.Y., and Meredith, N.H., recently completed a tour at the Pentagon where he served as a military education policy planner in the Joint Staff J-7 since December 2008. He also served as the executive officer for USS Farragut (DDG 99) from June 2005 to October 2007.

As Constitution’s 72nd commanding officer, Bonner will lead his crew as they prepare to celebrate the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The ship and crew are expected to participate in numerous activities and festivities throughout the U.S. in 2012, as American people commemorate what’s sometimes called the United States’ second war for independence.

“2012 will be a wonderful opportunity to celebrate a great period, not only for Constitution, but also the Navy,” said Bonner. “The early victories over the British frigates Guerriere and Java changed the tone of the war at sea and brought America credibility at a time that it was sorely needed.

“We know 2012 will be a busy year for the ship as we celebrate at various Navy Weeks and ultimately hope to sail the ship again. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but crew and our various partners are working hard to ensure the bicentennial is a success.”

Cooper, a Marshfield, Mass. native and graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, will go on to his next assignment at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport R.I.

Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat. The ship defended the sea lanes against threat from 1797 to 1855, much like the mission of today’s Navy. Constitution’s mission today is to offer community outreach and education about the ship’s history, as she welcomes more than 500,000 visitors per year.

Source: navy, July 24, 2011;