SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Five Sailors assigned to the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) were awarded medals March 19 for their heroism and bravery in combating a fire in the aftermath of a rogue drone strike on the ship that occurred 15 months ago.
While conducting training off the coast of Point Mugu, California, on Nov. 16, 2013, an aerial BQM-74 target struck Chancellorsville on the port side, leaving a 3-foot hole and slightly injuring two Sailors. The ship returned to San Diego on Nov. 17 under its own power.
During the awards ceremony Rear Adm. Patrick Piercey, commander, Carrier Strike Group 9, read a first-person account from one of the Sailors on board at the time of the incident.
"Selflessness is not only a principal that I strongly value, but also one strongly reinforced every day that I step on the ship. On Nov. 16, 2013, a day much like any other, a drone struck a space that is considered the heart of the ship during a routine tracking exercise. With the space ablaze and personnel at risk there was no great 'I' and little "you", said Piercey as he read the personal account.
Piercey continued reading, "We were all accountable to each other and we all helped in whatever way that we could to make sure that we all made it home safely that day. Ship, shipmate, self; I realized the true meaning of selflessness that day. Every Sailor, from our captain to the newest seaman stood their ground that day to fight the ship. We all put personal safety aside to protect our shipmates."
The officers and crew stood in formation on the ship's flight deck as Piercey then presented the awards.
"To those who received awards today and those who were awarded prior to my leaving command for their actions in the wake of the drone strike, thank you," said Capt. Andrew Hesser, who was Chancellorsville's commanding officer at the time of the strike and now serves on Naval Surfaces Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet staff. "Thanks for everything you did that day, for your heroism, for saving the ship, for saving my life and the lives of the crew. We were in trouble and had you not taken the actions you did and put your training to use we would have been if far greater trouble. What these individuals did was truly heroic, I'll never forget it and I can never thank you enough."
During the ceremony Lt. Cmdr. James Santymire was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his actions while leading the damage control efforts to combat the fire and prevent further damage to the ship. Chief Damage Controlman Jeremy Tuculet and Fire Controlman 2nd Class David Gentry were awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
Tuculet said he was one of the first personnel on the scene and led a hose team through heat and caustic smoke to battle the fire for more than 15 minutes. Gentry said he was the lone Sailor in computer central when the drone struck the ship. He said he assisted in evacuating contractors from the space. Despite smoke inhalation, a melting jacket and burns to his hand he returned to the scene to combat the fire with the hose team.
In addition, Lt. j.g. Clifford Ward and Hull Maintenance Technician 1st Class Christopher Kesser both received Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals for their actions as first responders during the damage control crisis.
"I was sitting at my computer checking my email when the drone struck the ship about six feet behind me," said Gentry. "When I went to egress out of the space I went through the flames and I caught on fire. I exited the space and shed my jacket then immediately returned to fight the fire."
U.S. Navy Sailors are trained from their earliest stages in the Navy to perform damage control in order to combat damage to the ship. They are trained to be able to fight many different types of fires, flooding, and structural damage as part of preventing damage from spreading and keeping the ship afloat and ready to fight.
"A fire on a ship is inherently dangerous," said Gentry. "You'll hear Sailors say all the time 'firefighter first, job second'. Even though I am a Fire Controlman and an Aegis networking technician, I was in a position that I had to use my firefighting training to combat the fire. It feels great to be recognized, but I am ready to put this behind me and prepare the ship for Japan."
Chancellorsville is scheduled to join U.S. forward-deployed naval forces in Yokosuka, Japan. As part of the U.S. Navy's long-range plan to send the most advanced and capable units to the Asia-Pacific region, Chancellorsville will leave her homeport of San Diego for Yokosuka later this summer.
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