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Lt. Edwin Handley, a chaplain, delivers the benediction during a change of command ceremony held on the flight deck of amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD 25), Sept. 24.

San Diego

Capt. Christopher Brown relieved Capt. J. W. David Kurtz as commanding officer of amphibious transport dock USS Somerset (LPD 25) during a change of command ceremony held on the ship’s flight deck, Sept. 24.

Rear Adm. Wayne Baze, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 3, presided over the ceremony and gave remarks as the guest speaker.

“We as a Navy have to remember our purpose,” said Baze. “Ultimately we are all about preserving the peace while remaining ready at all times to fight and win our nation’s wars. That is what our citizens expect of us, and we will not fail them. I can think of no more capable force to accomplish this than the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps team and USS Somerset.”

During his tenure as commanding officer, Kurtz led his team through Exercise Steel Knight 2020, Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT), and the basic, advanced, and integrated training phases to prepare for the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group deployment to the U.S. 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet areas of operations. During the deployment, Somerset supported Operation Octave Quartz in Somalia, Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria, theater amphibious combat rehearsals in Kuwait and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Exercise Northern Edge 2021 in Alaska.

The ship also participated in multinational exercise La Perouse with ships from the Royal Australian Navy, French Navy, and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force to build the collective trust, interoperability, and skills essential to maritime security, as well as expeditionary strike force operations with the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73) in the South China Sea.

Kurtz and Brown each read their orders in keeping with naval heritage, and authority and responsibility of Somerset was transferred after a short exchange of salutes.

“Being your commanding officer has been one of the highlights of my career,” said Kurtz, addressing the crew for the last time. “It has been a true honor to serve with those aboard this vessel and represent what this ship means not just to us but to those who we honor. The crew of this ship will continue to achieve excellence in everything that they do, because I know they can. They have proven it time and time again. It is a bittersweet moment to leave, but I know this ship will continue onto bigger and better things.”

Brown addressed the crew for the first time, thanking Kurtz and looking forward to Somerset’s future.

“I am humbled to take command of such a fine ship and crew,” said Brown. “I look forward to seeing just what this ship is capable of and know you can do it based on what I have heard and what I have seen come from here.”

Brown was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and is a native of Queens, N.Y. He is a 1993 graduate of New York’s College of Aeronautics and earned his commission in 1998 through Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla. He has served as executive officer aboard USS Freedom (LCS 1) and as commanding officer aboard USS Squall (PC 7), USS Typhoon (PC 5), USS Monsoon (PC 1), and USS Fort Worth (LCS 3). Ashore, Brown served on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations, Surface Warfare Division (N96) and as branch head for networks, communications, and electromagnetic spectrums operations (N6) at Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) Headquarters. He most recently served as senior military evaluator in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E).

Like sister ships USS New York (LPD 21) and USS Arlington (LPD 24), Somerset was named to honor those who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks which occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. Since the ship’s commissioning in 2014, the crew of the Somerset has maintained an enduring bond with Somerset County and the Families of Flight 93. Members of the crew had the honor of joining the families and friends of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa., to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and a few family members were able to attend the change of command in person.

“9/11 was a challenging and painful time for us all, but it was also a time that brought out some of the best in humanity,” said Baze. “It is important for our Sailors and Marines to carry on that legacy today, 20 years later, as we continue to support the ideals of freedom and democracy.”

Somerset is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship homeported in San Diego. It is the second warship to bear the name and is specifically named for Somerset County, Pa., and the heroes of Flight 93.

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