The US Navy recently welcomed the latest Arleigh Burke-class destroyer into its active fleet, the USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123), with her commissioning ceremony held at Naval Air Station Key West’s Truman Harbor, Florida.

Several US officials attended the ceremony last Saturday, including Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday, among many others. The ship’s sponsors—Louisa Dixon, Virginia Munford, and R. Pickett Wilson—also witnessed its commissioning and were among those who paid tribute to its namesake.

USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123) is the 72nd Arleigh Burke-class missile-guided destroyer under the Flight IIA classification, which features an improved version of the ship’s class and tons of new advanced technologies. In addition, it carries the namesake of the Navy’s first female recipient of the Navy Cross.

Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee, born in Canada on May 18, 1874, served as the second Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps in 1911. After completing her extensive nursing training, she entered the then-newly established US Navy Nurse Corps in 1908 and became one of the first twenty members—widely known as “The Sacred Twenty.”

Higbee dedicated her nursing skills to the service, gradually climbing the ranks from Chief Nurse in 1909 to Second Superintendent in 1911. Her conspicuous devotion and efforts in leading the Corps during World War I and during the Spanish Influenza epidemic did not come in vain, as she eventually received the Navy Cross in 1920.

She retired from service two years later and lived a private life until her passing in 1941. Higbee was buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband, Lieutenant Colonel John Henley Higbee, who previously served in the Marine Corps years before his death in 1908.

USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123) prepares for commissioning at Naval Air Station Key West’s Truman Harbor, Florida. (Image source: DVIDS)

Speaking at the ceremony, Del Toro highlighted the groundbreaking achievements of Higbee as one of the trailblazers of the Navy Nurse Corps and the exemplary leadership role she demonstrated that eventually granted her the second-highest military decoration.

I am confident that the crew who will sail USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee will continue to honor and embody her trailblazing legacy,” Del Toro said, expressing his confidence toward the future crew of the newest Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

Navy’s DDG-51 Program

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers remain the longest-running Navy ship production series since World War II under the DDG-51 program, serving as the backbone of the service’s surface fleet. Likewise, the ship class is also the world’s most advanced destroyer and a significant asset in the service today and for many years.

In the late 1980s, the Navy split-awarded the ship’s building contract between Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works (BIW), with the latter credited for the lead ship USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51), while the former responsible for USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123). Its construction began in 2017, with its keel-laying ceremony in November 2017. She was then christened in early 2021, and it took almost a year for the HII to complete the turnover to the Navy. Following its commissioning, the DDG-123 will be homeported in San Diego.

As mentioned, DDG-123 is among the Arleigh Burke-class configured as a Flight IIA ship, which measures around 509.5 feet (155 m) in length and 59 ft (18 m) wide, with a displacement of 9,496 tons when fully loaded. The AN/SPY-1D(V) radar and SM-3 Block IIA missile have a more extended range and improved performance than those on Flight I and II ships.

Bellatrix illa, “She Is a Warrior” —DDG-123 Destroyer’s motto (Image source: DVIDS)

Other significant improvement includes power projection and quick reaction time, as well as the advancement of weaponry systems and increased electronic countermeasures capability for anti-air warfare.

With this, the DDG-123 is considered more capable than the Flight I and II ships in tackling different missions in open and littoral (coastal) waters, including anti-air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and surface warfare.

So far, the DDG-51 program has built and commissioned over 70 ships, with 13 more underway. Each will also undergo modernization to keep up with the rapidly advancing trend in naval warfare technology. Along with the Zumwalt class and the future DDG(X), these ships will play crucial roles in maintaining US Navy’s tight grip as sea commanders for the next four decades.

Go on a deep dive into the history of the Navy Nurse Corps and discover the remarkable, trailblazing stories of nurses who saw action and yet depicted bravery, sacrifice, and dedication to duty. Check out “In and Out of Harm’s Way: A History of the Navy Nurse Corps” by Doris Sterner.