From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
For our continuing series on ships celebrating significant milestones in their careers — 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years – one ship stands alone in June – USS Firebolt (PC 10). The 10th in the Cyclone-class of coastal patrol ships, Firebolt was commissioned June 10, 1995 on the Potomac River in Old Town, Alexandria and first homeported at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va.
While only 179-feet long, the ship carries some serious armament with two MK 38 chain guns, two Mk 19 automatic grenade launchers, two .50-inch machine guns, and four Griffin missile launchers.
As a coastal patrol ship, Firebolt is involved with maritime interdiction operations and security patrols. While assigned to the European Command in 1998, Firebolt participated in a D-Day commemoration wreath-laying ceremony on June 4 and then was the first U.S. Navy warship to visit Stralsund, Germany, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the German navy.
After training with Estonian Naval Forces, Firebolt participated in a number of joint exercises, in September of that year, such as Ellipse Bravo near Gibraltar and Atlas Hinge near Tunisia. The ship was also part of Operation Shadow Express Oct. 2-7, 1998, as a contingency plan for emergency evacuation of U.S. Embassy personnel from Liberia due to unrest in the area.
The following year, Firebolt participated in a Southern Command, 56-day surge deployment with Naval Special Warfare Unit 4, and then conducted a joint exercise with the Belize Defense Force Maritime Wing.
Hurricane Floyd in September 1999 had Firebolt cruising to Annapolis, Md., and then Philadelphia, Pa., to avoid high winds and sea surges.
At the end of 2001, following the 9/11 attacks in the United States, USS Firebolt (PC 10) was the first patrol coastal ship to deploy in direct support of homeland defense, a five-month deployment that covered 13,000 miles of U.S. coastline from Boston, Mass. to Ingleside, Texas. Called Operation Noble Eagle, the mission tasked the Navy to assist the Coast Guard in carrying out maritime homeland security operations.
In 2004, Firebolt, stationed permanently in Bahrain performing maritime security operations in the North Arabian Gulf, experienced high operational tempo conducting surveillance of and providing protection to oil platforms in the northern and central Arabian Gulf during Operation Iraqi Freedom, never missing a mission out of a six-month deployment, according to command history.
On April 24, 2004, crewed by Patrol Coastal Crew India, the ship’s rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB), with four Firebolt Sailors and a 3-man Coast Guard boarding team aboard, was clearing multiple fishing dhows operating in the 2-mile restricted area around the Khor Al Amaya oil terminal. They were passing out information pamphlets to the fishermen.
One vessel, however, when approached at first moved away from the RHIB and then sped toward the oil terminal. The RHIB looped back to engage with the driver again, when the vessel made an “abrupt maneuver” toward the Firebolt RHIB and exploded, capsizing the RHIB. Killed in action were Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Michael Pernaselli, Signalman 2nd Class Christopher Watts and Coast Guard Damage Controlman 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal, who was the boarding team leader and the first member of the U.S. Coast Guard to be killed in action since Vietnam.
Within 16 minutes, two other vessels exploded in what may have been a coordinated terrorist attack on Iraq’s offshore infrastructure.
Following medical evacuations, Firebolt resumed her patrol. Due to a request for increased patrols in the area, Firebolt’s India crew’s departure and return to Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Va., was postponed and it continued maritime security operations until a relief crew from USS Whirlwind (PC 11) arrived July 17, 2004.
The fallen shipmates from Firebolt were honored on April 24, 2006, when the Regional Support Organization Norfolk held a dedication ceremony for the Patrol Coastal Center of Excellence at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek. A large plaque was unveiled and placed outside the front entrance of the Center, with the words, “Their sacrifice is not forgotten,” engraved upon it.
Lt. Wesley Brown, executive officer, PC Crew “India” and weapons officer on Firebolt when the attack occurred, added, “We’re always training, always learning. At the end of the day, we have to do our job no matter how risky, no matter how dangerous.”
Ten years later, about 200 service members from several nations attended a remembrance ceremony at Naval Support Activity Bahrain on April 24, 2014.
U.S. 5th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. John Miller said the actions of the crew from USS Firebolt stopped a possible terrorist attack on other high-value targets.
“The potential threats to this infrastructure are as great today as they were in 2004,” he said.
The attack didn’t affect the resolve of the Sailors, who continue to crew the ship. On April 29, 2005, Firebolt was among several U.S. Navy ships that rescued 94 people after their vessel capsized in the Gulf of Aden 25 miles off the coast of Somalia.
Later that year, Firebolt, as part of coalition Task Force 58 conducting security patrols in the Arabian Gulf assisted a dhow fisherman who was suffering from kidney stones on Aug. 29, 2005. The coastal patrol boat dispatched a hospital corpsman, who administered medical aid and then escorted the man to the nearest shore medical facility.
In 2009, Firebolt provided support to members of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 who were working alongside members of the Iraqi Navy to perform a salvage dive survey and hazard clearance in the Umm Qasr, Iraq harbor Nov. 14-16.
On March 3, 2012, USS Firebolt rescued a survivor after an Iranian cargo dhow capsized in the north Arabian Gulf the day before. Of the five other crew members, four were dead and one missing. Sailors from Firebolt recovered remains of three of the deceased mariners and helped search for the two missing crew members.
WHAT ELSE WAS GOING ON in 1995?
- Brian Adams was setting the music charts on fire with the top song of that day, “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman.” by Bryan Adams.
- Adams had a little competition on the charts from the theme song of a newcomer to the NBC TV line-up, a show described by the New York Times as “as close as a new series can get to having everything.” “I’ll Be There for You,” by the Rembrandts was the theme song to “Friends.”
- The average price of a gallon of gasoline was $1.09 that week, well on its way to the average of $1.15 for the year. Unemployment was 5.6 percent with an inflation rate of 2.81.
- The average home price climbed to $158,700 with the median around $133,700.
- The E-4 monthly salary was $1,056, a 28 percent increase since 1985, surpassing the 22 percent increase in civilian median income of $34,076 over the previous 10 years.
- For entertainment, folks were reading John Grisham’s “The Rainmaker” on the beach and then cooling off in the theaters with Val Kilmer’s “Batman Forever” and Tom Hanks as an astronaut in “Apollo 13.”
- There was plenty of news on June 10. The jury in the murder trial of a former football star, after having been instructed by the accused’s attorney “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” found O.J. Simpson not guilty of criminal charges he murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson. And Deadheads the world over mourned the news that the Grateful Dead had broken up.
- Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch won the grueling 1.5 mile Belmont, but missed out on a Triple Crown after placing third in the sprint-like Preakness at Pimlico.
- The Houston Rockets were busy spanking the Orlando Magic as they swept the finals 4-0 for their second consecutive NBA title.
- While Firebolt was undergoing pre-commissioning sea trials, the Navy was responding to Japan following the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed more than 5,000 in Kobe.
- On the homefront, the country was still reeling from a truck bomb that exploded in April at Oklahoma City federal building, killing more than 170 people and injuring 500.
SO WHERE IS USS FIREBOLT NOW?
In April 2014, several of the coastal patrol ships in the U.S. 5th Fleet PC force had the Griffin Missile System (GMS) installed, including USS Firebolt. The missile system extends the range of the PC’s self-defense capability and enhances the performance of core mission sets like maritime infrastructure protection, escort duties and defense of commercial shipping.
Firebolt, currently assigned to Commander, Task Force 55, is homeported in Bahrain. Rather than crew swapping as they did earlier, all of the ships have permanent crews. Three are now based in Mayport, Fla., with 10 stationed in Bahrain.
The lead ship of its class, USS Cyclone (PC 1), which joined the fleet in 1993, was sold to the Philippine Navy in 2003. But the remaining 13 ships of the class — the youngest, USS Tornado (PC 14), at age 15 — are busier than ever.
“This class of ship is ideal for working in this area,” Capt. Brendan McLane, commander of Destroyer Squadron 50, said during an interview published in the April 2015 National Defense Magazine. “They greatly increase our ability for continued maritime security operations and theater security cooperation in Fifth Fleet.”