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    Anchored in History: Down But Not Out

    The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) John C. Stennis entered the 5th Fleet area of operations, Dec. 5.

    Over 18 years ago, the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) was attacked in 5th Fleet during a port call.

    After operating mainly in the 6th Fleet area of operations during their deployment, the Cole passed through the Suez Canal toward a scheduled port call for refueling in Aden, Yemen.

    In 1997, the U.S. government had sought to enhance their partnership with Yemen, despite Yemen being an unstable state considered a haven for terrorists following a short but bloody civil war in 1994. Yemen would become the U.S.’s main refueling hub in 5th Fleet for the remainder of the decade.

    The U.S. government was not oblivious to the threat of a possible terrorist attack in Yemen. The U.S. was concerned, however, with land-based attacks on its assets and not waterborne threats. The refueling station in Aden abated any U.S. concerns by being located in the middle of the harbor, away from any piers and possible threats.

    At approximately 1115 on Oct. 12, 2000, the Cole finished taking on fuel from the station during their brief port stop in Aden. As the U.S. Sailors wrapped-up the evolution, a Zodiac-type speed boat cut through the water towards the portside of the Cole. Based on eyewitness accounts, U.S. Sailors snapped pictures and waved as two men continued in their worn-down speed boat towards the Cole. The speed boat made its way to a few feet from the Cole’s port side amidships.

    At the same time, the Chiefs Mess buzzed with activity. U.S. Navy chief petty officers talked and ate their lunch as they would any other day. The chief petty officers and personnel in the Chief’s Mess had no idea what was about to happen. No one did.

    At 1118, the Cole shook violently as trays, plates, food, glasses, tables, and silverware scattered across the Chiefs Mess. Metal twisted and turned in ways it was not meant to.

    Panic spread across the ship as smoke and water spread, and power was lost to the majority of the ship’s spaces. The Chiefs Mess was swallowed by darkness. Sailors lay intertwined amongst the wreckage, either injured, dying, or already dead. The rest of the crew raced toward the impact zone to save their shipmates.

    The crew managed to access the Chiefs Mess after cutting through the mangled debris, and began pulling out their shipmates to the best of their abilities. While the crew attempted to rescue survivors, they had another task to worry about: The Cole’s water-tight integrity.

    The explosion had ripped a 40-foot-by-60-foot hole on the Cole’s port side. The damage control efforts centered around stopping the water that was rushing in.

    Amid their injured and dying shipmates the crew set boundaries and sealed water-tight hatches, allowing the Cole to stay above water. The injured were sent off the ship for care, the dead were gathered to be properly put to rest, and the remaining crew began the long process of recovery.

    The Cole remained in the harbor waiting for aid to arrive, and the crew continued to sift through the damage and de-water spaces. Two days after the explosion, the watertight hatches maintaining the ship’s integrity gave way.

    Water began flooding the ship, once more. The crew began using bucket teams to combat the casualty as others desperately fought to reseal the hatches. Their attempts failed. The water continued to rush into the ship, reaching the ship’s back-up generator and cutting power to the ship. The crew persisted - they would not lose their ship, not after all they had been through. The damage control team managed to cut a hole above the Cole’s waterline, enabling them to run a pump over the side, saving the ship.

    Once help from around the fleet arrived, the Cole was towed aboard a transport ship to be dry-docked at Pascagoula, Mississippi, Dec. 13, 2000. Navy officials debated scrapping the Cole, but the crew disagreed. Decommissioning the Cole would have given the enemy what they wanted. 73 days after the attack on Dec. 24, 2000, the Cole was placed back into the water.

    U.S. Sailors aboard the John C. Stennis can learn from the experience of our shipmates on the Cole. As the U.S. Navy motto states, Sailors need to be “100 percent on watch.” Proper vigilance and preparation will keep the John C. Stennis and its crew ready and able to conduct the mission of prompt and sustained combat, incident to operations at sea.

    For more news on John C. Stennis, visit www.stennis.navy.mil or follow along on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stennis74.

    This story was originally published Dec. 14, 2018 in the Statesman Magazine on page 10 of volume 6, issue 11.

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    Date Taken: 12.14.2018
    Date Posted: 12.30.2018 08:51
    Story ID: 305763
    Location: ARABIAN SEA

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    Anchored in History: Down But Not Out