The Rebirth of an Old Tradition at Sea

Base Info
BM2 John Burnett and QMSN Alexander Johnson of the USS SHILOH display the pig stick.
BM2 John Burnett and QMSN Alexander Johnson of the USS SHILOH display the pig stick.

The Rebirth of an Old Tradition at Sea

by: ENS Clayton T. Dietz | .
USS Shiloh | .
published: May 30, 2016

YOKOSUKA, JAPAN - Crew members assigned to the Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruiser USS SHILOH (CG 67) have resurrected an old tradition. Through the combined efforts of several of her sailors, the ship now has a new “pig stick.” This stick, which will be used to carry the ship’s commissioning pennant, will be ceremonially passed down from each successive commanding officer.

Chief Quartermaster (QMC) Chauncey McWilliams of Monroe, Louisiana, took part in its creation, and enthusiastically describes the pig stick’s history and construction. When connected to a yardarm, it displays the commissioning pennant above the top of the halyard and above the mast, allowing the pennant to be seen from every direction. It is essentially a small flagstaff which is raised above the mast. In the US Navy, during a change of command ceremony, the off-going commanding officer has his pennant lowered from the mast by the signalman of the watch. Then after being relieved by the on-coming commanding officer, the on-coming captain’s pennant would be raised with the ceremonial pig stick.

Until recently, the ship’s commissioning pennant has been flown directly from the gaff, which is not in accordance with Navy tradition. Upon being questioned about what was missing from the pennant by Captain Adam Aycock, Quartermaster Seaman (QMSN) Alexander Johnson of Dallas, Texas, took the lead on the creation of SHILOH’s first pig stick. Together with QMC McWilliams, he developed plans for how to make one. QMSN Johnson, using tools borrowed from the ship’s hull technicians (HT), carved out a suitable wood staff, cut it to length, sanded it, and added all of the hardware necessary to display it from the halyard and to connect the commissioning pennant. After working with the wood and tools, Johnson said, “It was a great experience, and I would like to take woodworking as a hobby.”

Something as important as the pig stick must be properly adorned, so QMSN Johnson approached Boatswain’s Mate Second Class (BM2) John Burnett of San Diego, California, and asked him to complete the fancywork. With the philosophy of “If you’re gonna do it, it might as well be the best,” Burnett began his work, which he completed over a period of two weeks during the March underway. He also used the opportunity to show other boatswains mates how to do their own fancywork. His personal favorite of the different patterns on the stick is the second one down from the pennant that is a very dense weave of tight knots because “it is the most intricate.”

When the completed pig stick was presented to Captain Aycock, he saw how good it was and, instead of having it flown, decided to keep it and start the tradition of passing it on to each successive commanding officer. Still wanting a pig stick which could be flown on a regular basis, QMSN Johnson, BM2 Burnett, and QMC McWilliams set out to make a second pig stick, which is still in production.

The effort put into the creation of the pig stick showcases the drive for excellence easily found among Sailors assigned to SHILOH, and it goes to support her motto of “Making Excellence a Tradition.” The level of teamwork and passion exhibited keeps SHILOH strong in her Dignity by showing to all that the crew does their best to keep with tradition while working hard. It shows their Determination by always improving themselves and their ship, and it displays their Honor to themselves in doing what is right to keep great traditions alive.

SHILOH is forward deployed in the 7th fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

Tags: Yokosuka Naval Base, Base Info
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