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The USS Ashland is seen at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, on Jan. 17, 2014.

The USS Ashland is seen at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, on Jan. 17, 2014. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

The USS Ashland is seen at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, on Jan. 17, 2014.

The USS Ashland is seen at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, on Jan. 17, 2014. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

The crew of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland watches intently as executive officer Cmdr. Douglas Patterson takes command from outgoing skipper Cmdr. John Barnett during a change of command ceremony at Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014.

The crew of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland watches intently as executive officer Cmdr. Douglas Patterson takes command from outgoing skipper Cmdr. John Barnett during a change of command ceremony at Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Cmdr. Douglas Patterson, left, took command of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland in Sasebo on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, from outgoing skipper Cmdr. John Barnett, center. Patterson previously served as the Ashland’s executive officer and now becomes its 16th commanding officer. At right is Rear Adm. Hugh Wetherald, commander of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet amphibious forces.

Cmdr. Douglas Patterson, left, took command of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland in Sasebo on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, from outgoing skipper Cmdr. John Barnett, center. Patterson previously served as the Ashland’s executive officer and now becomes its 16th commanding officer. At right is Rear Adm. Hugh Wetherald, commander of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet amphibious forces. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Rear Adm. Hugh Wetherald, commander Amphibious Forces 7th Fleet, presided over a change-of-command ceremony for the USS Ashland Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan.

Rear Adm. Hugh Wetherald, commander Amphibious Forces 7th Fleet, presided over a change-of-command ceremony for the USS Ashland Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Cmdr. John Barnett relinquished command of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland during a change-of-command ceremony Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. He was replaced by the ship's executive officer, Cmdr. Douglas Patterson.

Cmdr. John Barnett relinquished command of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland during a change-of-command ceremony Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. He was replaced by the ship's executive officer, Cmdr. Douglas Patterson. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Cmdr. Douglas Patterson took command of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland during a change-of-command ceremony Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan.

Cmdr. Douglas Patterson took command of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland during a change-of-command ceremony Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Humanitarian workhorse USS Ashland got a new skipper Friday.

The Sasebo Navy community, as well as the crew of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship, gathered on deck on a chilly morning to celebrate the tenure of outgoing captain Cmdr. John Barnett, who was then replaced by former executive officer Cmdr. Douglas Patterson.

Barnett and Patterson were credited with changing the culture aboard the Tortuga and later the Ashland after a hull swap last year.

The Tortuga had been nicknamed the “Tortanic” in Navy circles but later developed a reputation as a dependable piece of the 7th Fleet’s amphibious force. Neither ship missed an operational commitment in the past three years.

Barnett’s tenure onboard the Tortuga, and later the Ashland, was marked by participation in Operation Tomodachi following Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster three years ago as well as Operation Damayan in November after Typhoon Haiyan battered the Philippines.

Before coming aboard the Tortuga in June 2012 as executive officer, Patterson previously completed tours with Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Seven, USS Germantown as its engineer officer and as an individual augmentee with the Defense Energy Support Center as its bulk fuel responsible officer for Tactical Petroleum Terminal Cedar II in An Nasiriyah, Iraq.

He becomes the ship’s 16th commanding officer.

“I am humbled to be your captain,” Patterson said shortly after his pennant was raised high above the ship.

The Ashland arrived in Sasebo in August 2013 after a stint in Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, Va. It was the first amphibious ship in the Navy to embark female sailors as permanent members of the crew in 1994.

burke.matt@stripes.com

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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