For a brief time 18 years ago, Navy veteran John Thompson thought he would never again see his young family.
Thompson served as a crew member aboard USS Cole (DDG-67) on Oct. 12, 2000 — the day the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer was targeted in a terrorist attack while being refueled in Yemen’s Aden Harbor, leaving 17 Sailors dead and 39 injured. Thompson survived and returned home to his wife, Heidi, and their children, 2-year-old Lauryn and 5-month old son, James.
On the 18th anniversary of the attack, James and Heidi Thompson watched proudly as James, the oldest boy in a family that has grown to six children, graduated from boot camp Oct. 12, at Recruit Training Command (RTC).
The Navy’s legacy and traditions were on display during Thompson’s visit to RTC.
He was joined by USS Cole shipmates and attack survivors, Master Chief Electronics Technician (Retired) Pamela Jacobsen and Jason Mosher in a guided tour of USS Trayer (BST-21). The USS Trayer is a 2/3-scale, 210-foot long mockup of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer used by recruit divisions to work through a 12-hour Battle Stations experience as a comprehensive test of the skills and teamwork learned during their eight weeks of basic training at RTC.
The damage caused by the attack on USS Cole is the inspiration for and incorporated into a Battle Stations scenario aboard USS Trayer.
Jacobsen is an instructor at the Center for Surface Combat Systems Unit Great Lakes.
Mosher, who served from 1997-2006, is an electronics technician at Fidelity Technologies Corporation, which runs and operates the trainer, co-ordinates scenarios, monitors recruit safety and oversees computer operations.
“To be able to be a part of this really is something because it’s just great to see the legacy of the Cole having a positive impact on Sailors,” Mosher said. “It’s helping them to prepare for such an event, God forbid, it should happen to them. It’s keeping the Cole a part of Navy heritage. It’s keeping it fresh in every recruit’s mind when they come through here. It leaves a mark; it stays with them. It’s a great way to honor the 17 who were lost on the Cole. That means a lot to me to be a part of this.”
John Thompson said the attack took the lives of four shipmates from his division — Engineman 2nd Class Mark Ian Nieto, Fireman Patrick Howard Roy, Fireman Joshua Langdon Parlett and Fireman Gary Graham Swenchonis. Thompson, who said he has been a guest speaker about his experience at local high schools, said touring USS Trayer brought back a wide range of memories and emotions.
“The smell, they got the smell amazingly correct,” Thompson said. “The way it looked, the damage, was really close to what we went through. I don’t know if it was from the bomb, or metal melting, or whatever, but that smell brought back a lot of memories.”
Following his tour, John Thompson handed his son a Navy ball cap that each new Sailor puts on for the first time before sharing a brief and emotional hug at the capping ceremony that follows recruits’ successful completion of Battle Stations.
“I shed a lot of tears when he left and I knew when I saw him today it wasn’t going to be easy,” John Thompson said. “He’s 18 now, an adult, and he’s going to do really well. He knew what he wanted to do in the Navy and he worked hard to get to that. Seeing it to fruition now, it’s just neat to see him go through that. Going through something my wife and I went through, there’s a lot of pride in that.”
James Thompson is a fourth-generation Sailor on his father’s side and a fifth-generation Sailor on his mother’s side — Heidi Thompson graduated from boot camp on Oct. 11, 1997, just one day after her husband. Also on hand to witness graduation were James Thompson’s grandfather, James Weaver and 6-year-old sister, Isabella.
“When he decided to the join the Navy, my wife and I being Navy veterans, were really proud of a family member carrying on the tradition,” John Thompson said. “I shed a lot of tears when he left and I knew when I saw him today it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Boot camp is approximately eight weeks and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. More than 30,0000 recruits graduate annually from RTC and begin their Navy careers.