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Women power at full throttle with USS Manchester

Cmdr. Emily Bassett, commanding officer, littoral combat ship (LCS) crew 214, give the opening remarks during the LCS crew 214 commissioning ceremony in 2016.

CHRISTOPHER A. VELOICAZA/U.S. NAVY PHOTO

By HADLEY BARNDOLLAR | Portsmouth Herald, N.H. (Tribune News Service) | Published: May 20, 2018

PORTSMOUTH — The strength and force of the 608-ton, 421-foot future USS Manchester is undeniable. But perhaps one of the most historic aspects of the U.S. Navy's newest littoral combat ship is the clout of the women behind it.

USS Manchester Cmdr. Emily Bassett has made five deployments, earned two master's degrees and held leadership positions on four U.S. Navy vessels.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., had her initials welded onto the hull of the USS Manchester during the keel laying ceremony. A member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Shaheen is the official sponsor of the ship that honors New Hampshire's Queen City. She is also considered a permanent honorary crew member.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig was elected as the Queen City's first female mayor in 2017. She is a Manchester native and is "tremendously proud" of the ship that pays tribute to its namesake city.

USS Manchester will arrive in Portsmouth Monday, May 21 and will dock at the New Hampshire Port Authority until its commissioning ceremony Saturday, May 26 at 10 a.m. Five-thousand attendees are expected and tickets are sold out.

Bassett is a native of Seattle. According to the Navy, she completed her first division officer tour aboard the ship USS Rushmore (LSD-47) as combat information center officer and assistant operations officer. After nuclear power training, she completed her second division officer tour aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) as reactor laboratories division officer. She completed two department head equivalent tours, first as operations officer on USS Ingraham (FFG-61) and then as reactor electrical assistant on USS Abraham Lincoln. She served as executive officer on USS Arlington (LPD 24) certifying every warfare area in the ship's first training cycle and commencing the ship's maiden deployment.

Bassett has made five deployments, including WESTPAC, CARAT, Operations Enduring Freedom, Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom. She earned a master's degree in Hispanic studies, taught in Spanish, from the University of Cadiz, Spain. She has another master's in engineering management from Old Dominion University.

"I think what's exciting about three women leaders converging from three different sectors of public service is what it tells us about men and women leading our country - that we are doing it together," Bassett said of her partnership with Shaheen and Craig. "The men and women that I work for and work with, we work as a team. That's what is great about this country, that we work as a team. I'm excited to be part of this team of leaders."

Bassett said she's gained resilience from her past experiences, preparing her for her role as commanding officer. Her crew is also resilient, she said, focused on learning and adapting to change.

Bassett and her 140 sailors will spend the week ahead of commissioning exploring Portsmouth, and taking trips to Manchester and Boston.

"What I am most excited about for commissioning week is the opportunity for this crew to get some recognition for all their hard work, as families, friends and guests and visitors to the ship will get to see the fruits of all their labor," she said. "Sailors work hard, and it's not always easy to articulate exactly why we do everything we do. When we see the faces of impressed, appreciative family members and fellow Americans, it helps remind us why we do what we do - to protect and defend this fine nation."

Shaheen said the USS Manchester sends the message that women can rise to the challenges and assume leadership positions typically filled by men, "and can do so with grace, toughness and purpose."

"Cmdr. Bassett has been a steady hand to guide this process forward and her leadership and influence serve as an example to us all, especially young girls in New Hampshire, about the potential and opportunities available to women today," Shaheen said.

Shaheen has been working with the crew of USS Manchester since 2011. When the ship was christened in May 2016, she popped the champagne bottle. Shaheen is the first woman in the United States to serve as governor and then senator.

"We know that New Hampshire's history shines bright when it comes to women in leadership positions," Shaheen said. "Women only encompass about 15 percent of U.S. military personnel, which as we know, is not representative of our population. It's important that young women see leaders like Cmdr. Bassett and understand that they too can aspire for similar leadership opportunities."

Shaheen noted other women with roots in New Hampshire who took their leadership skills to the military. Lori Robinson, the first woman to lead a U.S. military combatant command, is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire. U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson was raised in Keene.

"This is a proud moment for Manchester, Portsmouth and New Hampshire, and will honor our state's legacy of supporting the United States' national defense and those who bravely serve," Shaheen said.

Craig called the experience of working with Shaheen and Bassett "a great partnership, both are wonderful role models."

"The strength in the women behind this says a lot," Craig said. "It's been a long time in the making. I think it's a sign of our future and what we're working towards."

Craig said the ship being named after Manchester is not only an honor for her as mayor, but for every working resident in the city. "It represents the hard-working resilient citizens that are here in Manchester, but it shows further how that transcends," she said. "It embodies the same spirit of our industrious attitude and history. It's again really getting to the core of Manchester, who we are."

It's significant to be celebrating the ship on Memorial Day weekend, Craig noted, honoring those who serve and have served in the Navy in tandem with the commissioning.

"When the crew and Cmdr. Bassett were here in March, it was so exciting to meet them in person and see the energy and excitement," she said. "I think the actual commissioning will just be the culmination of all of that."

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©2018 Portsmouth Herald, N.H.

Visit Portsmouth Herald, N.H. at www.seacoastonline.com/portsmouthherald

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

A video screen grab shows the future USS Manchester under construction. The official commissioning of the USS Manchester is on May 26, 2018, in Portsmouth, N.H.
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