USS Cole 20th Anniversary Speech

12 October 2020
Good morning team STOCKDALE. Thank you for hosting this remembrance of our USS COLE shipmates. Today we are here to honor the Sailors lost and recognize the crew of COLE for their valiant efforts that tragic day.
 
The 17 Sailors standing in front of us today serve as a visual reminder of the brave lives lost on October 12, 2000 when USS COLE was attacked by terrorists. 17 of our shipmates paid the ultimate price for their country that day. 17 Sailors. 17 people. Sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, partners, and friends.
 
17 men and women just like us, who took an oath to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” 17 families, grieving lost loved ones. Twenty years have passed but their legacy remains. The loss pains us, but their sacrifice resonates.
 
At the USS COLE memorial service, President Clinton said the deaths of those Sailors serve as a reminder that even in times of peace, we risk our lives every day simply by serving our country. For surface warriors all over the world, that sentiment still rings true today. 
 
The attack on COLE reminds us that in war or peacetime, operating or training, we must always be vigilant. In the face of terror, we must uphold the tenets of our profession: honor, courage, and commitment.
 
That’s exactly what the crew of COLE did twenty years ago today, and for three grueling days after. Responding to a surprise attack, the crew had no idea what was waiting for them: flooding, spewing fuel, potential electric shock, shipmates pinned in the wreckage. 
 
With no time for deliberation, COLE pushed through shock and fear of another attack to fight cascading casualties for four days.
 
Sleepless and grieving, they did what had to be done to save their ship. They secured dangerously exposed electrical equipment. They recovered trapped shipmates and provided critical first aid. They waded through fuel-laden water to rig dewatering pumps. They were on the look-out for a follow-on attack, but never did they allow fear overtake them. They didn’t give up – that wasn’t an option.
 
After containing the initial damage, the crew courageously sustained their efforts for nearly two weeks. They relied heavily on their damage control training, but they also had to be innovative. When faced with discouraging setbacks, like the failure of previously secure watertight seals resulting in cascading flooding of a main engine room, they took immediate, deliberate action, cutting a hole in the hull enabling the use of emergency dewatering pumps. 
 
They knew their ship’s systems and when they recognized the compromised systems were insufficient, it was their innovation that proved crucial to survival. Their bravery, quick response, and tenacity stopped cascading casualties, kept the COLE afloat, and allowed the crew to return home, complete repairs, and ultimately deploy seven more times since that fateful day. USS COLE and its crew, both past and present, are true symbols of American fortitude. They inspire us – as a Navy and as a nation – to never give up.
 
We can only continue that tradition by learning from those who went before us. 
 
That’s why the COLE crew’s heroic efforts are now memorialized in our approach to damage control training. The 12-hour COLE scenario, within the larger Battle Stations training at boot camp, engrains damage control response in Sailors before they even set foot on a ship. That simulation puts every Navy recruit in a demanding disaster environment, preparing them for potential dangers like the ones COLE Sailors persevered through. And those standards are reinforced throughout the fleet with a rigorous training cycle requiring entire crews to train as they fight – as those on COLE fought that day.
 
That fighting spirit shines through every time you set CONDITION ZEBRA and man your battle stations to defend the ship from imminent attack; Every time you don an SCBA, tend a fire hose, and confront a fire while your ship is at sea. But it’s also there when you train in preparation for a mission; when you protect your ship and shipmates from potential harm by thoroughly enforcing sentry requirements; and when you stand a watch during the night so your shipmates can safely rest. It’s there when you do the hard steady-strain work, day in and day out, even when the threat is not readily apparent.
 
A threat was tragically revealed that day, but in true American form our nation’s response was an emboldened generation. There are probably Sailors here today who cite the COLE as one of their motivations to serve, whether by personal proximity to the crew or simply the calling to defend our nation from the emerging threat the attack foreshadowed. Acts of terrorism aim to inspire fear, chaos, and create unrest. Instead, they meet failure. 
 
Ship, shipmate, self – we live by that code. It’s a way of life that inspires heroic action. Remember the sacrifices of those who went before you and honor their legacies by learning from their stories. Embody the COLE’s fighting spirit by continuing the tradition of toughness, readiness, and warfighting. Hone your skills through rigorous training, maintain your gear, and never stop fighting. We are a united team, forged by the sea, and by upholding the lessons learned from COLE’s fight those fateful days, we honor the legacy of those who gave their lives. Thank you for joining me today in honoring our fallen shipmates. Their legacy lives on through us today. Remember, SIXTY SEVEN!

 
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