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Whirlwind Mustangs Lead the Way

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Victoria Kinney, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Public Affairs | May 31, 2017

MANAMA, Bahrain -- When Lt. Joseph Brisco assumed command of USS Whirlwind (PC 11), he knew he was taking on more than just the title of captain. He was also taking on responsibility for 30 Sailors who would turn to him for leadership. He in turn would rely on his executive officer, Lt. James O’Neal.

Brisco didn’t realize, however, that when he assumed command on May 1, he and O’Neal would become part of a rare breed: prior enlisted officers commanding at sea.

Brisco, a prior limited duty officer (LDO), laterally converted to surface warfare in 2011. O’Neal is a current LDO in the engineering community.

For an LDO, even a prior LDO, to achieve command, “is an extremely rare and special circumstance,” said Cmdr. Ed Callahan, the community manager for LDOs and chief warrant officers at the Bureau of Naval Personnel. “Even being an XO on an afloat command is rare.”

Brisco, a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, joined the Navy in 1996 as an electronics technician and operated and managed the electronics systems and subsystems of ships and aircraft.

Early in his career, he experienced success and moved up the ranks.

“When I first joined the Navy, my first thought was, ‘I’m going to do my time and get out’,” said Brisco. “But as I made my way around the ship and around the Navy and met LDOs and CWOs and chiefs, they really stood out to me. Eventually I met enough of them and was inspired to line up my career path so that no matter what direction I went in, I knew I wanted to head in those leadership directions. I started making the necessary steps to get there.”

After promoting to chief petty officer, he was presented with a crucial fork in his career path. On one hand, he could stay the enlisted route and aspire to the role of a command master chief, which is the leader of the enlisted members on a ship or at a shore command. On the other hand, he could apply for a commission as an LDO.

As a compromise, he allowed himself to apply for an LDO commission once, and if he was not accepted, he would charge hard to become a command master chief.

To his great fortune he was accepted on his first application and became a “Mustang”, or an officer that was prior enlisted for at least four years, in 2006. He served on two ships before his switch to surface warfare.

“The great thing about the Mustang community is that everyone just wants to see you grow and make sure that you keep going up which is how I got to the position of being a surface warfare officer and how I became a commanding officer,” said Brisco. “I still go to other Mustangs, like my XO, and use them as my sounding boards and bounce ideas off of them to help develop myself and my staff.”

O’Neal, a native of Pantego, N.C., joined the Navy in 1993 as an interior communications electrician and learned to operate, coordinate and perform organizational and intermediate maintenance on alarms, warning systems, interior communication systems, as well as other systems on ships.

O’Neal moved through the ranks and was promoted to chief petty officer.

As a chief, he saw that he was able to influence and inspire his junior Sailors. He sought, however, to make a greater impact on his command and in the Navy.

“It doesn’t matter what type of equipment that we have; if we don’t have the Sailors to operate that machine the right way, it doesn’t mean anything,” said O’Neal. “I felt that the LDO community was a good avenue to reach out and make an impact across the entire spectrum. I couldn’t ask for a better group of Sailors to put in the work that is required on Whirlwind, and a group that is so willing to learn from us.”

Because the job of XO on a coastal patrol ship is a collateral duty, O’Neal also has full-time responsibilities as the chief engineer, or “Cheng.”

As Cheng, O’Neal is responsible for the engineering plant aboard ship. Under his leadership, his engineering shop recently completed their certification process earlier than required, and also with 100% accuracy.

Whirlwind is one of ten coastal patrol ships forward deployed to Manama, Bahrain, and is assigned to Task Force (TF) 55 under U. S. Naval Forces Central Command.

The mission of coastal patrol ships, such as Whirlwind, is to conduct coastal patrol, maritime security operations, high-value unit protection, maritime infrastructure protection, maritime interception operations and special operations support for U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

TF 55 controls surface forces such as USN patrol craft and U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats in U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, which encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The expanse is comprised of 20 countries and includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.