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Commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic

USS Cole, 20 years later – We remember

by CDR Edward Pledger
08 October 2020

As Cole’s current commanding officer, I believe it is important to reflect on the tragic events of twenty years ago and bear witness to today’s Sailors who carry on the legacy of those who went before us.

On October 12, 2000, USS Cole (DDG 67) was deployed to the 5th Fleet Area of Operations, when the ship entered the harbor in Aden, Yemen for a refueling stop.  At 11:18 am, al Qaeda terrorists in an explosive-laden boat detonated a suicide bomb along the port side of the ship.  The blast killed 17 Sailors, injured 37 others and caused extensive damage which threatened to sink the ship.   

The crew would spend the next 96 hours engaged in one of the most heroic damage control efforts in the history of the United States Navy.  Immediately after the attack, countless agencies and military forces arrived to assist Cole in security and investigation efforts.  Here in Hampton Roads, the community rallied around Cole families where they were embraced and comforted.  Three weeks later, Cole departed Yemen, the American flag flying proudly, sending a message to our enemies that the crew never gave up the ship. 

Upon returning to the United States, the nation and the Navy quickly got to work, making strides to get Cole back to fighting shape.  Repaired by Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, MS, Cole returned to service and has deployed overseas six times since the attack.  Today, Cole is a front line, guided-missile destroyer still homeported in Norfolk, VA.  After completing a maintenance period in February 2020 where the ship received an extensive modernization package including upgrades to the BMD system and a new and improved sonar suite, we have been hard at work, training and preparing for our next deployment.  The crew has completed certifications in damage control, seamanship and navigation, landed and launched helicopters, practiced hunting submarines and fired our guns, sharpening our cutlass and building combat readiness.

A combat ready crew is the hallmark of Cole Sailors.  Twenty years ago, the crew worked hard and trained harder.  When Cole was attacked, the crew was ready.  Cole, named after Sgt. Darrell Cole, USMC, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Iwo Jima in WWII, is known as the “Determined Warrior.”  Her Sailors carry on his legacy through their work ethic and attitude and known as Determined Warriors.  Every day, today’s Determined Warriors work to embody the fighting spirit of Sgt. Cole and the Determined Warriors who went before us. 

The 17 Sailors killed by the attack and the Gold Star Families will never be forgotten.  Laid into the deck of Cole’s messline are 17 brass stars, each one memorializing a Sailor killed.  Every morning, Sailors shine the stars as a humble tribute to those that made the ultimate sacrifice.  The Gold Star Families they left behind have displayed unwavering fortitude in the face of devastating loss and hardship.  We thank them for their courage and sacrifice, and we owe them a debt of gratitude we can never repay.

Every October 12, we pause and reflect on what it means to be a Cole Sailor and to remember the sacrifice of the Cole Heroes.  Their toughness, fighting spirit and determination saved Cole.  The extraordinary example set by those Determined Warriors serves as a powerful inspiration to today’s crew.  The Cole Sailors of today and a direct reflection of the honor, courage and commitment displayed 20 years ago by the Cole Heroes.  Throughout my tour, Cole Sailors have always risen to the challenge, refusing to back down and accomplishing the mission.  We will always remember the 17 Sailors who made ultimate sacrifice and the Cole Heroes, whose actions showed the world that the U. S. Navy doesn’t quit, doesn’t back down and won’t be defeated.


 
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