When Lisa Franchetti (J85) came to Northwestern to study journalism, she enrolled in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps as a way of paying for tuition. She assumed that after her required four-year commitment was over she would leave the Navy and become a journalist. Twenty years later, she’s teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy, and she recently completed a nearly two-year tour as commander of the USS Ross, a guided-missile destroyer. “I always said I’d get out as soon as I didn’t like what I was doing,” she says. “But that hasn’t happened yet.”
As captain of the Ross, Franchetti was responsible for an $800 million warship and the lives of a crew of 350. She was one of the few women in the Navy selected to command a ship and one of a smaller number still who command warships. “Being in command was the most challenging, rewarding and inspiring experience I have ever had,” she says. “It is hard to describe what it feels like when you say, ‘I relieve you, sir,’ at your change of command ceremony, and in that instant all responsibility and accountability for the ship and everyone on it is transferred to you.”
Franchetti was well prepared to command. At 23 she had 75 people working under her, some of them 15 years older. Her assignments during her career gave her experience in all aspects of operating a ship — engineering, operations, combat systems, navigation and administration. When Congress repealed the combat exclusion law in 1994, paving the way for women to serve on combat ships, she was on her way.
Franchetti reflects on the weight of the responsibility of command. “The reality is that 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, every one of us on the ship has to be 100 percent ready to do our mission — in port or under way. And though there were many other people there to help me, the bottom line is that it was my job to make sure we were always ready. We trained constantly to ensure both our equipment and our minds were ready for anything that came our way. Good maintenance, good training and good information going out to keep the crew up to speed were essential to ensure that readiness. It was a tremendous responsibility.” — T.S.