By Ens. Chase Finch
USS Cole, Public Affairs
Today, as we look back at the morning of Oct. 12, 2000, we remember why it is that we train and prepare the way we do. A memorial stands along the shore at Norfolk’s Naval Operating Base, a reminder to us of the 17 shipmates that we lost 17 years ago. While the Navy will never be completely healed from the losses we suffered during the terrorist bombing in Yemen, the ship itself is as strong as ever, and the Sailors who serve aboard it today stand with solemn salutes every time they sail past the memorial for those 17.
One of the first things we are told upon checking into the command is how important damage control is to our crew and our ship. Whether we arrive from basic training in Great Lakes, “A” schools from across the country, Officer Candidate School in Newport, or Reserve Officer Training Corps from our nation’s universities, every Sailor will be taught the basics of firefighting, flood control and shipboard safety. The Navy’s mantra that every Sailor is a firefighter is a unique facet within the armed forces of the United States. While every Sailor will earn a specialized rating from any number of options, we all must put forth the effort to become as well trained a damage controller as the person next to us.
As a fresh-out-of-basic Sailor, we don’t fully understand why. But overtime we realize that our ship is floating out in the ocean, often alone for many miles, and we are the only ones that can save it during the worst of circumstances. On land, if the office catches fire, employees can exit the building while engines and ladders arrive on scene and take control. On water, there is nowhere to exit to. Sailors are responsible for their ship and their fellow service members. This is a lesson that was amplified by the events of October 12, and a lesson that was heroically demonstrated by the crew of USS Cole (DDG 67).
Thursday morning, 11:18 a.m. As Sailors were waiting eagerly in line for chow, or for the uninitiated, lunch, an explosives-laden boat came alongside the ship and detonated off the port side. Seven hundred pounds worth of explosives ripped a 40-by-60 foot hole through the hull of the ship, instantly creating catastrophic flooding and fires while killing 17 of our country’s Sailors. Despite the unexpected attack, the crew leapt into immediate response, whether it was attending to medical triage, extinguishing fires, or de-flooding large spaces within the ship. For 96 hours, the crew of Cole battled the damage with fervor and strength beyond any standard training. The ship was saved. We may become exhausted, at times, from constant training and drilling, but their actions serve as a reminder that the day may come when we are called upon to be at our best.
Today, while we recall the heroic memories of our lost brethren and honor those that fought to save our ship, we will continue to use their experiences and hone our skills. We will remember their bravery and we will continue to train like they fought. While we hope that day never comes again, we will prepare ourselves to save each other and our haze-grey destroyer. The Sailors of the Cole are what we are today because of those that came before us: Determined Warriors.