Black Excellence: Kelechi Ndukwe Becomes The First Nigerian-American Commander Of United States Navy Guided Missile Destroyer

by Duke Magazine

Kelechi Ndukwe has become the first Nigerian-American to take command of a U.S. Navy Guided Missile Destroyer, USS HALSEY (DDG-97). 

“I am so honored 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,” he said as he addressed his crew.

He succeeds DeVere J. Crooks, who had been the commander of the ship since November 2019 while Ndukwe at the time was his second-in-command.

As the son of immigrant parents from Nigeria who migrated to the United States in 1977, Ndukwe is evidently living his American dream. “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 said.

In his 18-year-Navy career, Ndukwe has served in different capacities. He serves on the Joint Staff in the Force Structure, Resource, and Assessment Directorate (J8) in charge of developing, maintaining, and improving the models, techniques, and capabilities used by combatant commanders to conduct studies and and analysis, according to ICIR Nigeria. 

However, the USS Halsey (DDG-97) will not be the first warship he will be commanding. He was the commanding officer for the USS Devastator (MCM 6), a minesweeper based in Bahrain and on others in different capacities around the world including the Mediterranean Sea, Horn of Africa, Arabian Gulf, and Western Pacific Ocean, according to the Foundation for Defense Democracies (FDD). 

The highly experienced surface warfare officer has stints with destroyers, cruisers, and mine countermeasures and has served as auxiliaries mechanical engineering officer. He was also the fire control officer of USS Normandy in Norfolk from 2004 to 2006.

Ndukwe had been the congressional liaison officer in the Navy Office of Legislative Affairs representing the Navy on Capitol Hill and even worked in the office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), the highest-ranking US military officer, from April 2017 to February 2019.

At the CJCS, Ndukwe served in the force structure, resource, and assessment directorate which is saddled with the responsibility of “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 working with the CJCS, he served on the OPNAV N96, the surface warfare directorate as the deputy executive assistant to the director of surface warfare and as the surface strike requirements officer. The Notre Dame alum graduated with a degree in chemical engineering in 2002 and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategy from the U.S. Naval War College.

The decorated U.S. Navy commander has garnered several awards including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

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