USS Cole survivors on the importance of training
As the sun set in Aden, Yemen, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2000, Sailors aboard USS Cole (DDG 67), were exhausted, hot, hungry, covered in soot and even dried blood. Many of them carried scrapes and burns and bruises from the explosion that had rocked the ship at 11:18 that morning. Most were still shocked and grief stricken from losing 17 shipmates to terrorism. All were on alert, afraid a second attack could occur at any moment.
Their fight had only just begun. The real battle would be keeping the Cole afloat in spite of the gaping 40-by-60-foot hole in the side and the crack that went down to the keel. It would take every ounce of the crew's collective training, plus a lot of ingenuity and jerry rigging.
Most of the ship had lost electricity, and with smoke, standing water, fuel and loose wires, conditions were extremely dangerous for the Sailors in charge of fire response and damage control (DC). They sprayed foam to keep the fuel from igniting, and by the light of the dim headlamps on their battle helmets, they cut through steel and ripped out bulkheads.
"Can you imagine being down there and the water's thick with fuel and lifting a welding torch? It could have set the whole ship on fire. The guy was a hero," said retired Master Chief Hospital Corpsman James Parlier, the Cole's command master chief. He was referring to a Sailor who volunteered to cut holes in the side of the ship for water pumps. "You have to remember ... we had Sailors down there with no light, just a battle lantern. It's over 100 degrees so they had short times because of heat conditions, listening for bulkheads that were about to collapse or monitoring any flooding. Pretty scary."
Sailors established smoke and fire boundaries, documented the damage, isolated mechanical and electrical systems as best they could and sealed watertight hatches to contain flooding as much as possible. They dewatered, and electricians repaired power lines while other Sailors stood watch, guarding their ship.
And then, just when it seemed like the crew had things under control, after other American ships had steamed in to help and Sailors were able to eat and shower, some of the watertight seals gave out late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. Water poured into one of the main engineering rooms. Plugging the leak didn't work. Daisy chaining pumps didn't work. The water kept rising, finally taking out the generator supplying emergency power to the Cole.