News: Memorial Service Honors Fallen Sailors, Coast Guardsman
By Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Campbell
MANAMA, Bahrain - U.S. Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia hosted a memorial ceremony on board Naval Support Activity Bahrain in recognition of the sixth anniversary of an attack on Iraq's oil terminals that claimed the lives of three U.S. service members from USS Firebolt while it was conducting maritime security operations in the Northern Persian Gulf.
Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, spoke to about 200 service members and civilians in attendance about the role the event played in changing the relationship between the U.S. and Iraqi navies.
"Navy Petty Officers Michael Pernaselli and Christopher Watts, and Coast Guard Petty Officer Nathan Bruckenthal lost their lives to a hateful act, perpetrated by a faceless foe, but their memory, service and sacrifice have become an inspirational and transformational event in our journey to secure Iraq's future, as well as becoming a personal source of focus and motivation," said Gortney. "Not too long after sundown April 24, 2004, a rigid hull inflatable boat from USS Firebolt was sent out to talk with a dhow's master who had strayed too close to Khor Al Amaya Oil Terminal. Planning to bring water and charts to help a fellow mariner, the seven crew members were instead greeted with a wall of fire as the suicide bombers detonated their vessel. The force of the explosion flipped the RHIB, killing our three petty officers and injuring the other four."
According to Gortney, the event strengthened the relationship between Iraq and the United States and brought the two navies together.
"We are no longer two navies dividing responsibilities by a line on the map," he said. "Iraq and the United States entered into a partnership aimed at preserving stability while also enhancing capabilities. From that day on, our Sailors worked, trained and fought side-by-side. The gaps and seams of the old plan were swept away and replaced with a unified concept aimed at securing the safety of all. Over the past six years our relationship with the Iraqi navy has grown tighter, while their capabilities have grown stronger. In this time, they have resumed control of both KAAOT and Al Basra Oil Terminal, as well as taken over large sections of the sector patrol mission. These accomplishments have required enormous amounts of time, resources, and training to be invested by this new Iraqi democracy, as well as substantial investments in new equipment and technology. It is truly impressive how far we have both come since that horrible day."
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command's mission is to conduct persistent maritime operations to forward U.S. interests, deter and counter disruptive countries, defeat violent extremism and strengthen partner nations' maritime capabilities in order to promote a secure maritime environment in the USCENTCOM area of responsibility.