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CLOSE-UP: Kelechi Ndukwe, first Nigerian-American to command a US missile destroyer

CLOSE-UP: Kelechi Ndukwe, first Nigerian-American to command a US missile destroyer
April 02
11:36 2021

On Thursday, Kelechi Ndukwe, a Nigerian-American, took over as the commanding officer of USS Halsey (DDG-97), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer. Before he took over from DeVere J. Crooks who had commanded the ship since November 2019, he had been serving as the second-in-command.

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As the first Nigerian-American to command the ship, the new role is the zenith of his 18-year career in the US navy which started with him working as an auxiliaries officer in 2003, a year after obtaining a master’s degree in national security and strategy studies from the US Naval War College.

TAKING CHARGE AND WHAT THAT HONOUR MEANS TO HIM

During the change of command monitored by TheCable, Ndukwe spoke about his birth in the US and how he has built a great career in the navy with the help of colleagues.

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Ndukwe said he is the oldest of his parent’s four children “but also the smallest”. He talked about how his father and mother migrated to the US from Nigeria in 1977 as “poor college students with hopes and dreams”.

“And now their son is the captain of a US warship. In America, anything is possible. Thank you for your example of hard work and dedication and the foundation you have laid for your children,” he added.

To DeVere who he took over from, he said the officer’s legacies “will live in Halsey for years to come” and, to his wife, he said, “you are still the greatest decision I have ever made”.

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Ndukwe and family (credit: USS Halsey)

Addressing the ship’s crew, Ndukwe said: “I am so honoured and excited to serve as your commanding officer. We will approach any day and mission with pride, professionalism and excellence. You are the life of this ship; this crew is the life of this ship. I thank you for your energy, effort and intensity every day.”

SERVED IN MULTIPLE WARSHIPS BEFORE NOW

The USS Halsey (DDG 97) is not the first US navy ship Ndukwe will be commanding. From 2013 to 2015, the graduate of chemical engineering was the commanding officer for the USS Devastator (MCM 6), a minesweeper based in Bahrain.

The USS Halsey

The USS Halsey

According to the Foundation for Defense Democracies (FDD), Ndukwe has served in multiple warships in various parts of the world including the Mediterranean Sea, Horn of Africa, Arabian Gulf, and Western Pacific Ocean.

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His LinkedIn profile states that he has also served in various other roles such as; weapons officer and combat systems officer of USS Fitzgerald in Yokosuka, Japan, from June 2010 to December 2011; as a navy congressional liaison officer in Washington DC, from July 2006 to August 2008.

He also served as the fire control officer of USS Normandy in Norfolk, from 2004 to 2006; and auxiliaries officer of USS Thorn, also in Norfolk, from 2003 to 2004.

WORKED UNDER HIGHEST-RANKING US MILITARY OFFICER

Ndukwe, who graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2002, has also worked in the office of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff (CJCS), America’s highest-ranking military officer.

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While there between April 2017 to February 2019, he served in the force structure, resource, and assessment directorate which is charged with “providing support to CJCS for evaluating and developing force structure requirements” and which “conducts joint, bilateral, and multilateral war games and interagency politico-military seminars and simulations”.

Prior to that role, he had served on the OPNAV N96 as the deputy executive assistant to the director of surface warfare and as the surface strike requirements officer, from June 2015 to April 2017 and March 2015 to May 2015 respectively.

The OPNAV N96 is the surface warfare directorate responsible for “the determination of force levels, shipboard and related support requirements and major features of programs involving weapon systems, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, command ships, patrol craft, and littoral combat ships”.

NOT EVEN WORK CAN KEEP HIM AWAY FROM FAMILY

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Ndukwe and his two kids (credit: USS Halsey)

In a Father’s Day interview with the USS Hasley’s crew, Ndukwe spoke about his experience during his first deployment as a father, and how he had to leave family including his pregnant wife behind.

But that did not stop him from being there for her when she was giving birth to the baby — their third child.

“Thankfully, Halsey (the ship) was in port conducting ammunition on-load, so I was able to FaceTime in for the delivery. We did not have the best connection, but it was still a special moment,” he said.

He also spoke about his ties with his Igbo roots which he said informed the decision to name their daughter Kamara.

On leaving his family for duty, he said: “I have left a family behind like so many of those shipmates that I served with before and that I am still serving with now and it can take a toll on you if you allow yourself to dwell on it.”

Ndukwe now joins the list of other US naval officers making Nigeria proud, including Victor Agunbiade, the navy reserve supply officer honoured in July 2020 for “100 percent accountability” as well as Beauty McGowan, who received a ‘high-performing sailor’ award while serving on the USS Iwo Jima, a US navy assault ship.

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