SOUTH CHINA SEA – Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) crossed the equator together, Sunday, during the ships maiden deployment.
“Slimy pollywogs” (Sailors who have not previously crossed the line or “wogs”) became “Trusty Shellbacks,” during a “Crossing the Line” ceremony as they crossed the zero latitude. The ceremony is an initiation rite that commemorates a Sailor’s first crossing of the equator.
“It definitely put a smile on my face,” said Sonar Technician Surface 2nd Class Robert Howard. “There were chiefs, lieutenants and commanders who had never crossed the equator before. It’s another achievement as a sea-sailor.”
The time-honored tradition dates back nearly as far as seafaring itself and was originally created as a test for seasoned Sailors to ensure their new shipmates were capable of enduring long, rough times at sea. Today the Navy uses these traditions as tools to educate the crew, boost morale and promote team cohesion.
“This tradition, like many others, lives on because it’s about courage and self achievement,” said Command Master Chief Joe Grgetich, a shellback on his 15th deployment. “Naval heritage and U.S. history play a large role in Navy traditions, and it’s important to keep that alive to inspire Sailors to better themselves.”
The stage was set as “King Neptune,” the mythological god of the sea, his first assistant Davy Jones, her Highness Amphitrite, and various dignitaries informed Commanding Officer Cmdr. John Howard they would be coming aboard the following day and that all wogs were to appear before him. A talent show was performed by the wogs later in the evening before they were allowed to rest.
The following morning, the wogs were tested as King Neptune and his royal court, who officiate the ceremony, along with Sailors who had previously earned their distinction as shellbacks, pushed the wogs through a series of trials designed to further educate them on the core values of honor, courage and commitment.
“We’re molding Sailors into senior leaders,” said Chief Fire Controlman Norman Norred. “It’s about fostering an environment of team work, honor and heritage. It’s important to know where you came from because if you lose that, you lose sight of your ultimate purpose.”
Sailors spent the morning singing songs, chanting, dancing and crawling from the flight deck to the forecastle, and finally, the missile deck. In the end, the wogs were proudly declaring their desires to join the ranks of the shellbacks.
“We were out there getting sprayed down by hoses, singing ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ for two hours,” said Robert Howard. “It definitely made me closer to the crew.
I was talking to people I had never talked to and for one day, rates and ranks seemed to disappear, and we were all on one level; we were all shellbacks.”
For many Sailors, the experience was only further enhanced by the day it happened to occur on.
“It meant a lot to me to participate in the ceremony on September 11th,” said Ship's Serviceman 3rd Class Katherine Santos-Perez. “I’m never going to forget crossing the line on that day. I’m proud to say that I was aboard the USS Dewey when she crossed the line on her maiden voyage.”
In the end, 223 Sailors from the Dewey, USS John C. Stennis (CVN) 74, and Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 71, earned the right to be called Trusty Shellbacks.