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Buffalo native serves aboard world's oldest commissioned warship

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Tue, Jun 28th 2016 02:15 pm
Petty Officer 3rd Class William Collins
Petty Officer 3rd Class William Collins

By Kayla Good

Navy Office of Community Outreach

A 2009 St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute graduate and Buffalo native will get to celebrate America's 240th year of independence as part of a hand-picked Navy crew serving on the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat, the USS Constitution.

Petty Officer 3rd Class William Collins, a mass communication specialist, serves aboard the 219-year-old Boston-based ship named by President George Washington to honor the Constitution of the United States of America. Famously known as "Old Ironsides," the Constitution is a wooden-hulled three-masted heavy frigate that originally launched in 1797.

Collins said he is honored to have been selected to serve on the ship that is rich in history and successfully held off the British Navy in the War of 1812.

"I really enjoy the amount of history that we get to teach to the public," he said. "We see over 500,000 people each year, so the fact that we get to tell the story of the Constitution and why we need the Navy is an incredible experience."

A key element of the Navy's mission is tied to the fact America is a maritime nation, according to Navy officials, and that the nation's prosperity is tied to the ability to operate freely on the world's oceans. More than 70 percent of the Earth's surface is covered by water; 80 percent of the world's population lives close to a coast; and 90 percent of all global trade by volume travels by sea.

Just as the U.S. Navy's 274 ships and submarines do today, Constitution actively defended sea lanes against global threats from 1797 to 1855. Constitution's victories at sea during the War of 1812 inspired a nation and helped mark the emergence of the U.S. as a world-class maritime power.

Now a featured destination on Boston's Freedom Trail, Constitution and crew offer community outreach and education about the ship's history and the importance of maintaining a strong Navy to hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

"Serving with the Constitution has helped me with public speaking," Collins said. "We can see 3,000 people a day. Being able to interpret the history has given me great public speaking experience."

Eighty-five sailors make up the crew aboard Constitution. These sailors routinely interact with the public, talking about their jobs, their previous duty stations, Navy rules and regulations, and life aboard a Navy vessel.

"The sailors aboard this ship are the best in the fleet," said Cmdr. Robert S. Gerosa Jr., the commanding officer of USS Constitution. "Every time we get to interact with the public, I know the story of our great ship, as well as the Navy's story, is going to be told with enthusiasm and accuracy."

Constitution is currently in dry dock for its first major restoration in more than 20 years. The restoration is expected to last two-and-half years, during which time the ship will remain open to the public.

According to Navy officials, ships must come out of the water from time to time for maintenance and repair - even the newest vessels in the fleet. The integrity of a ship's hull is critical to its survival and that of its crew. Ships are removed from the water for careful inspection, replacement of aging pieces, and refinishing of the bottom below the waterline so they may continue to serve for years to come.

While the ship is undergoing improvements, many sailors use the opportunity to improve upon their own personal and professional goals.

"I worked with the military after college, which gave me the exposure that made me want to give back to my country," Collins said. "Serving in the Navy has actually been fun for me. We get a lot of 'Thank yous,' not just for our service, but for all the sailors in the fleet and on deployment. They may not get the chance to hear 'Thank you' often, so it is great to serve at a command where we get to be the face of the Navy."

 

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