Oct. 12, 2000 was a day retired Command Master Chief James Parlier will never forget. The retired Navy hospital corpsman was serving as the command master chief, the highest enlisted crew member, of the USS Cole when it was attacked while being refueled in Yemen’s Aden harbor. Seventeen Sailors were killed and another 39 were critically wounded.
Parlier shared his experience and thoughts with the standing-room-only crowd of students and staff in the Hospital Corpsman Basic, or HCB, program at the Medical Education and Training Campus at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Sept. 21.
“Unfortunately, sometimes we have to learn the hard way, such as this incident on Cole,” Parlier said. “I had to put shipmates in body bags that day. I’ve not been a corpsman for quite a while, but I’m going to tell you what ... all this training you’re getting, when you go out of here, it’s not going to stop. And it’s important, because when that attack happened, it was like riding a bike. You don’t think. You do it.”
In the wake of the USS Cole attack, Parlier and the ship’s corpsmen provided Navy leaders with invaluable lessons learned with regard to the medical response and capabilities.
“I think fleetwide a lot of ships, our platform and other ships, learned things like placement of medical lockers, bulkhead-mounted lockers, the equipment that failed, and not having enough stretchers were important going forward,” Parlier said.
Parlier, an independent duty corpsman during his Navy career, also toured the HCB program and observed shipboard mass casualty and tactical combat casualty care training that were both implemented last year. Parlier was impressed.
“I’ve seen some of the school house and, believe me, I love what I see. I love where our hospital corps is going,” he said to the audience.
“My overall perception of the Hospital Corps School is that we have taken lessons learned from the past – whether in the field or from the school itself – and improved upon the training in so many ways to match the environments we are challenged with today,” he said. “I saw the motivation and determination from both instructors and students in completing tasks to prepare new corpsmen for the fleet. You’re in good hands students.”
While describing the events following the attack, Parlier didn’t mince words.
“Never did we ever think that a billion-dollar warship would come under attack in a port halfway across the world. Never did we think that we would be fighting a ship that should have been sunk. And never did we think that we’d see our shipmates on a small ship like that in the condition they were in, and were still treated with respect. We got 39 critically wounded patients off in an hour and a half with a makeshift gangplank.”
Parlier also said they depended on locals to transport the wounded patients to the hospital, while remaining vigilant, in the event of a second attack.
“Just pray you never find yourself in that situation. But if you do, be as ready as you can.”