Soldiers in S. Korea get a rare glimpse of Navy tradition
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea
Members of the Army-heavy U.S. Forces Korea community were treated to a rare sight Tuesday: a traditional Navy change-of-command ceremony.
Soldiers, airmen and Marines packed the garrison’s Collier Field House to watch the Navy community welcome the incoming commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea, Rear. Adm. Thomas S. Rowden.
According to the master of ceremonies, the change-of-command is not prescribed by U.S. Navy regulations, but rather is “an honored product of the rich heritage of Naval tradition.”
During the ceremony, outgoing commander Rear Adm. James P. Wisecup explained that he would read his orders relieving him of duty and Rowden would read his own orders.
“This procedure was designed to ensure that duly-authorized officers held command and that all aboard the ship were aware of its authenticity,” according to program narration.
Another tradition highlighted during Tuesday’s ceremony was the row of “side boy,” sailors that Wisecup, Rowden and ceremony host, U.S. Army Gen. B.B. Bell, walked through at the beginning and end of the ceremony.
According to a fact sheet on Naval customs, traditions and etiquette, side boys are important to quarterdeck ceremonies or when officers board or leave a ship.
According to the fact sheet, it wasn’t uncommon in the “days of sail,” for commanding officers to invite each other to dine. Since there was no easy way to bring visitors aboard while under way — and it wasn’t dignified for an officer to climb a rope ladder — a wooden sling was lowered to the officer and sailors would hoist the guest aboard.
The boatswain’s mate would control the heaving by piping the appropriate commands with a whistle known as a Boatswain’s Pipe. The higher-ranking the guest, the more “strong backs” (side boys), were needed to hoist, according to the fact sheet.
The custom of “mustering the side boys and piping distinguished visitors remains” part of Navy tradition, according to the sheet.
Anywhere from two to eight side boys form a passageway at the gangway, depending on the officer’s rank.
“They salute on the first note of the pipe and finish together on the last note,” according to the sheet.