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U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC)


Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia

U.S. Navy

12 October 2020

EDITOR'S NOTE: Below are the combined remarks for the guest speakers during the USS Cole 20-Year Commemoration Ceremony at Pier 12 onboard Naval Station Norfolk, Oct. 12, 2020.

Adm. Christopher W. Grady, Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command
Retired Adm. Robert J. Natter, Commander, U.S. Atlantic Fleet/Fleet Forces Command
Cmdr. Edward Pledger, Commanding officer, USS Cole (DDG 67)

Adm. Christopher W. Grady, Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command Welcome Remarks

NORFOLK (Oct. 12, 2020) Adm. Christopher Grady, Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, speaks at the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) 20th Anniversary memorial ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk. USS Cole was attacked by terrorists at 11:18 a.m. on Oct. 12, 2000, while moored for refueling in the Port of Aden, Yemen. The explosive bomb created a 40-by-60-foot hole on the port side of the ship, and the Cole's Sailors fought fires and flooding for the following 96 hours to keep the ship afloat. Commemoration events on the 20th Anniversary of the attack remember and honor the 17 Sailors who were killed, the 37 who were injured and the Gold Star families. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Darien G. Kenney)
SLIDESHOW | 7 images | 201012-N-NU634-050 NORFOLK (Oct. 12, 2020) Adm. Christopher Grady, Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, speaks at the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) 20th Anniversary memorial ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk. USS Cole was attacked by terrorists at 11:18 a.m. on Oct. 12, 2000, while moored for refueling in the Port of Aden, Yemen. The explosive bomb created a 40-by-60-foot hole on the port side of the ship, and the Cole's Sailors fought fires and flooding for the following 96 hours to keep the ship afloat. Commemoration events on the 20th Anniversary of the attack remember and honor the 17 Sailors who were killed, the 37 who were injured and the Gold Star families. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Darien G. Kenney)
Ladies and gentlemen, good morning and thank you for joining us on this very special occasion. First to Adm. Scholl, Commodore Kenney, Cmdr. Pledger and all of team Cole thank you for coordinating such a fitting event here on the 20th remembrance.

The story of USS Cole is one of remarkable heroism, exceptional toughness, and fierce determination. It is also a story of solemn sacrifice. As such, the story of USS Cole represents a pivotal chapter in our Navy’s proud history. And so, owing to the significance of Cole’s story to our Navy and our nation, today, we will pause in places spanning the globe … to remember those we lost too soon … to honor the heroic actions of the crew … and to reflect on our responsibility to carry Cole’s legacy forward. And thus I am personally deeply honored to be right here on this Oct. 12, 2020 – together with team Cole – as we look back on that fateful day 20 years ago.

Nowhere was this event felt more deeply than right here with the families, friends, and shipmates of the 17 sailors we lost. And, so, today – two decades later – before the ever-mighty USS Cole – we are honored to gather with you, the Cole Gold Star families – and reaffirm our sacred bond. We stand with you. We support you. We will never forget your sacrifice. I know that, not just on days like today, but every day, you grieve the loss of your loved one.  And, while grief from loss may change through the years, it never leaves us.  So it is that I am incredibly humbled by your strength, your dignity, and your grace.

That strength, dignity, and grace is perhaps best exemplified by Mrs. Mona Gunn, who recently completed her term as president of the American gold star mothers, an organization committed to ensuring that others that suffer from tragedy never do so alone.  Mona, I applaud you for keeping alive the memory of your son, Cherone, by serving others, perpetuating the noble principles for which he served.

I would also like to welcome rear admiral (retired) Jay Foley, who commanded our Surface Force, Atlantic Fleet in 2000. Jay and his wife, Charlene, were intimately involved with the families from the very beginning of this story.  Thank you both for being here. You deserve enormous credit for forming that sacred bond between the Navy and our Gold Star Families.

As we mark this solemn milestone of 20 years since this insidious attack, it is essential we recognize the extraordinary acts of the Cole crew that fateful day and in the ones that followed.  As is true in every chapter of our Navy’s story, our Cole Sailors rose to the occasion. They upheld our finest traditions by rescuing their shipmates and by fighting to save their ship under extremely arduous conditions. In doing so, they personified our Navy and our American fighting spirit.

This is why I am immensely proud to welcome our Cole heroes this morning. I couldn’t be more pleased to see so many of you here, despite the challenges posed by this pandemic. I am also grateful this event is being broadcast live for those who couldn’t make it. So on behalf of all of you I would like to extend a special welcome to Cmdr. (retired) Kirk Lippold, who commanded Cole, Capt. (retired) Chris Peterschmidt, who served as executive officer, and Master Chief (retired) James Parlier, who served as Cole’s command master chief.

The famed American author and psychiatrist Irvin Yalom once wrote that each of us creates expanding circles of influence around ourselves that may affect others for years, even generations. He evoked the image of ripples in a pond propagating farther and farther from their source. The ripples created by our actions are felt by others – sometimes even without our knowing. From time to time, a seemingly simple act spreads out like a ripple on a pond, but strikes those around you with the force of a tidal wave. What impact we have and where that is felt is tough to predict. And, rarely do we get feedback on how meaningful our influence has been. Even less often do we learn how, as a direct result of our actions, those we’ve influenced have gone on to positively influence yet others. I can think of no better illustration of this ripple effect than the example of USS Cole. To show you what I mean, I’d like to share this video… 

Ladies and gentlemen, Petty Officer Mosher is here with us today. So how about a round of applause for Jason.

As I said, sometimes the ripples we create strike with the effect of a tidal wave. I am proud that we honor the sacrifice of our 17 sailors and the heroism of the entire Cole crew through things like Battle Stations 21.  This is just one example of how our current generation of Sailors – our entire navy – benefits from their legacy.

As we study the Cole heroes’ actions, we don’t have to look far to discover where they drew their inspiration. The Cole heroes were unquestionably influenced by the ripples formed by their ship’s namesake, Marine Sgt. Darrell Samuel Cole. Sgt. Cole was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his dauntless initiative, unwavering courage, and indomitable determination during the battle of Iwo Jima 75 years ago in World War II.

We are grateful to be joined today by Sgt. Cole’s family. I hope each of you can see how his heroic actions inspired bravery among the Cole crew over 50 years later and continues 75 years later as each Sailor is inspired by their own ‘Determined Warrior’ spirit.

In keeping with the ripple effect, we thought it would be poignant, given the occasion, for some of us who have intersected with Cole over the last 20 years to share our insights into the true extent of our 17 and the Cole heroes’ influence. And, so, it’s my pleasure to welcome Adm. Rob Natter. The ideas of legacy, service, and sacrifice are very familiar to him. Each of his six brothers served in uniform. Both of his sisters married servicemen. All three of his daughters chose to extend the Natter family legacy by serving in the Navy as well. Much like the Cole crew, Adm. Natter is intimately familiar with the demands of combat himself.  As the officer in charge of a Seal support craft during the Vietnam War, he and his crew were suddenly ambushed by enemy forces. Adm. Natter, along with 10 other shipmates, was blown overboard and wounded in the attack. Despite his injuries, Adm. Natter distinguished himself by re-boarding the vessel and maneuvering it to enable his team to deliver suppressing fire in return. And also much like many of our Cole heroes, Adm. Natter put others before himself.

As the last commander-in-chief, U.S.  Atlantic Fleet and the first commander U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Adm. Natter serves as a personal role model and mentor of mine. Following the attack, Adm. Natter walked the deckplates of the damaged ship, visited wounded shipmates, and comforted families as the funerals for our fallen Sailors. Later, our paths intersected with Cole in a very poignant way, when I had the honor of having Cole, which I commanded at the time, serve as the backdrop for his retirement ceremony in 2003. Ladies and gentlemen, Adm. Rob Natter…

Retired Adm. Robert J. Natter, Commander, U.S. Atlantic Fleet/Fleet Forces Command, Guest Speaker Remarks

It’s 11:18 on this very day, Oct. 12, twenty years ago, while USS Cole refuels in Aden Harbor, two men in a small boat approach, smiling and waving. Just as the boat pulls alongside, suddenly a massive explosion blows a huge hole into the side of Cole, extending 16 feet below the waterline. The blast enters a machinery space and violently pushes the steel galley deck upward, killing Sailors as they line up for lunch.

Seventeen of our Sailors, your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters, your fellow shipmates … are killed … and 37 are wounded.
 Despite the severity of that blast, Cole is kept afloat only through the herculean damage control efforts of the crew over several days, all while standing ready to defend the ship against a possible second attack. 
While I wasn’t there in Aden that fateful day, I clearly recall being informed, and being struck with how very lonely and short of reinforcements Cmdr. Lippold and his entire crew must have felt. 
I also recall how this attack, in so many ways, reminded me of another attack … the Cole crew’s actions that day lived up to the courageous and determined examples set by their predecessors during the attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Except Cole was all alone in Aden, and the entire crew knew there was no immediate help close by … but they also knew there was no giving up. 

Cole answered the call that day, they answered the call to general quarters, they answered the call to duty, exactly as they had sworn their oath to do, and exactly how they were trained to do. And after two backbreaking, sweltering weeks, they got Cole underway, sending a clear unmistakable message … she left with her battle ensign flying high and our national anthem blaring from the ship’s 1MC.  So that everyone in and around Aden Harbor knew that Cole was coming back.

I also remember our Navy community … led by Rear Adm. Jay Foley and his staff...helping with the families here in the United States.

I remember our civilian shipyard workers packing out immediately to board aircraft and fly to Aden to assist in the recovery and repair.

I remember distinctly FBI Director Louis Freeh calling and saying that he was sending his best agents out to Cole so that they can determine who did this act and take the appropriate action to bring them to justice and that is being done today.

I recall the many offers of assistance from others, our French and British allies, immediately offering to respond with their forces in the region.

I remember how Mayor Fraim called and offered assistance for the local Cole families on behalf of his fellow Norfolk citizens.

And I remember vividly Senator Warner calling and asking how he could help. And I told him there most certainly was a way. He agreed immediately to introduce congressional funding to repair Cole as fast as possible so she could rejoin the fight and help deliver a powerful response to al Qaeda for their cowardly act.

And, of course, ladies and gentlemen, none of us will ever forget the sad funerals here in Norfolk and in too many other communities.

I also recall the return of our wounded … and President Clinton coming here to Norfolk to meet with them, and then his televised remarks on the pier amongst our ships. At that event, I recall introducing the president and finishing my remarks by saying to him directly: “Mr. President, when it comes time for our nation to respond to this attack … remember the Cole.” 

Finally, and most importantly, I remember how, in 2003, only three years after the attack, I purposely had USS Cole moor alongside the pier as I retired from the Navy for one big highlight that Cole was back…and to highlight that there was no other ship in the entire Atlantic Fleet for which I was more proud during my three years as fleet commander.

As I stand here today, along with you, in front of the mighty USS Cole, I am proud to say we remain fully committed to doing our duty. And, I ask you and indeed I ask all Americans, as we look toward the future, to always and forever do our duty ... to remember and honor USS Cole … to honor those who fought in her; to honor those who were wounded fighting in her, and, especially, to honor those who gave their lives fighting in her. 

Ladies and gentlemen: we must never forget our duty … remember the Cole!

Adm. Christopher W. Grady, Introduction Remarks

While I was incredibly proud and honored to join team Cole as commanding officer in January 2003, the Cole heroes’ influence on me began as it did for many others – from afar. When I first learned the news of the attack and heard of the loss of our 17 sailors, I was awestruck.  In the profession of arms, we are all aware of the risks we may face, we understand the consequences, and we prepare ourselves for whatever fate may come.  We understand that duty requires sacrifice – that we must be willing to give up some of ourselves to support and defend others. That sense of sacrifice is ingrained in all of us – ship, shipmate, self. Nonetheless, each time we suffer the loss of our own, the effect from that loss ripples instantly around the world.  We all felt a deep connection to those 17 sailors. We all mourned alongside you, wherever we were.

As I learned more in the days and weeks that followed, the Cole heroes left me with another indelible impression, that of a well-trained tough crew who, after absorbing a devastating blow, rose to the immense challenge of rescuing their shipmates and saving their ship.  Without that determined and brave team, Cole could have rolled over and sunk right there in Aden Harbor.  The Cole heroes outright refused to let that happen – that is their legacy. They lived up to the legacy of not just their ship’s namesake, but others, such as the crew of ‘GQ Johnny’ and the famous ‘Sammie B’ from World War II.  It was clear to me that they carried forward our proud heritage of fighting with honor, courage, and commitment.

As weeks turned into months, another ripple struck me.  This impression was not one of the Cole heroes directly, but rather, a reflection of them.  I was struck by the ‘Determined Warrior’ spirit exhibited by our mighty industrial base. These patriotic, proud, passionate, and productive craftsmen lived up to their great legacy by repairing this ship in only 15 months.  Thanks to their tenacity and teamwork, Cole has never missed a beat and she made her next deployment on time!

From the very moment I arrived in Cole, it was crystal clear to me that this crew was even more determined than ever. Over two years later, many on this crew were the very ones who fought to save their ship and shipmates after the attack.  In fact, they insisted on deploying again.  But many others on this crew experienced the attack exactly how I did – from afar.  And they too, were willing to do whatever it took to get their ship ready to deploy again.  They, like me, wanted to be part of the team that brought Cole back into the fight better than ever.  We were extremely proud to take Cole on her returning deployment.  And we were inspired to honor our fallen shipmates, and felt a deep sense of responsibility to live up to the examples set by our predecessors. To this day, I am still inspired by my experiences in command when the crew would respond, almost instinctively, to the challenges we faced with, “we want to deploy…we have to do the hardest stuff… and we have to do this right … because the 17 would have it no other way.”

I also think back very fondly of how warmly we were embraced by our allies and partners during our return deployment. I remember, during join-ups of our NATO task group, when allied ships would come alongside, man the rails, and render honors to our 17.  Clearly, the ripples created by the Cole heroes had traveled across the oceans and influenced them as well.

Suffice it to say that I am profoundly proud to call myself a member of team Cole. Everyone privileged enough to serve in her knows that, because of the examples set by our 17 and the Cole heroes, she is a truly special ship.  In fact, I am sure we would all agree… there is no other ship anywhere in the fleet that fits its motto better than USS Cole – Determined Warrior.

The ripples formed by the Cole heroes continue to spread across the world’s oceans to this day – and they will continue to do so well into the future.  Their actions epitomized America’s fighting spirit – bravery, toughness, tenacity, and a resolve to never give up – whatever the odds. 

For the citizens of this great nation, know that I see reflections of the Cole heroes in today’s sailors. This gives me tremendous confidence that the American spirit is alive and well. Today, the entire Navy family, wherever they are around the world, recommits ourselves to living up to the legacy created by our 17 and the Cole heroes. Finally, and most importantly as we enter a new era of great power competition, and potential adversary to the United States should recognize an obvious message that al Qaeda clearly missed – never underestimate our resolve. The U.S. Navy was undeterred by the attack on Cole. Our actions over the last 20 years prove that. Because, the Cole heroes would have it no other way.

Thank you.

Cmdr. Edward Pledger, Commanding Officer, USS Cole (DDG 67), Guest Speaker Remarks

Adm. Natter, Adm. Grady, thank you for your kind words.
Anyone who has served aboard Cole knows how much of an honor it is to be called a 'Determined Warrior.' We are humbled by the extraordinary privilege of marking this 20 year milestone as your hosts. 
Today, we find ourselves preparing for our next deployment. With the crew so busy training and preparing, one of the joys as commanding officer is walking the deckplates, seeing all of the great work by our Sailors.  The highlight of these walkabouts is seeing Sailors shine the 17 gold stars laid into the deck of the messline. These stars – 17 brass stars, proudly shined every morning by Cole Sailors – are a tribute to the 17 Cole Heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Those stars remind me of how my crew is a direct reflection of the Cole Heroes and the 'Determined Warrior' ethos.
To help illustrate how today’s 'Determined Warriors' carry on the fighting spirit of those who went before us, I’d like to share some examples of their honor, courage and commitment.
About two years ago, we were in the shipyard, just up the river in Norfolk. One night, a fire broke out on the ship on the adjacent pier. Cole’s duty section swung into action. LS3 Musson and BM2 Sheppard rapidly dressed out in firefighting gear, raced to Oscar Austin and checked in, ready to go.  There was a report of a contractor trapped in the fire. An Oscar Austin Sailor led LS3 and BM2 to the scene. Once on the scene, they weren’t able to find the contractor – he had been able to escape – but they found Oscar Austin Sailors fighting the fire in forward officers’ country.  Demonstrating their ‘Determined Warrior’ attitude, LS3 and BM2 each grabbed a hose and joined the battle. Within minutes, the Oscar Austin Sailors had to egress due to their oxygen bottles running low.  So there they were, two brave 'Determined Warriors', each manning a fire hose, alone, in the dark, face to face with the fire. 
Very soon thereafter, Cole’s entire duty section arrived to assist their Oscar Austin shipmates. Recognizing he was the senior damage control expert there that night, DC1 Catron, Cole’s Fire Marshal, took charge of the firefighting efforts.  Cole’s Sailors quickly formed hose teams, proceeded inside the fire boundary and fought the fire. After being notified of the fire while they were home, Cole’s damage control assistant, Lt. Jesse Story and our Chief Damage Controlman, Brian Martin, jumped in their cars and raced to Oscar Austin. No one told them to do that. They just did it. Because that’s what 'Determined Warriors' do. They charge toward danger with fearless determination and accomplish the mission.
My next story is from this past February. We were getting underway for sea trials, our first underway in 20 months. This was essentially a new, untested crew, sailing Cole back out to sea.  We had gone through a rigorous training and certification process. We’d practiced in the simulators, planned, and briefed. It was time to execute. The weather was fairly typical for a February day in Norfolk – cold, wet, and overcast. Didn’t matter. We were excited and ready to put COLE through the paces. We took in all lines, centered up in the channel and headed outbound for sea. Right as we made the turn into Thimble Shoals Channel, fog set in. Fog so thick you couldn’t see past the bullnose. Many of you probably know, navigating in restricted waters, through a narrow channel with tricky currents and numerous small boats and merchant vessels is challenging enough as it is. A scenario like this - with no visibility - could easily paralyze the most experienced crews with fear. 
But that’s not what happened. Their hours of training kicked in and the team didn’t miss a beat even when we passed a 750 foot long merchant ship in the channel, effortlessly gliding 100 yards apart from each other.  Everyone responded just like they’d been trained. With a fearless determination, safely sailing out to sea, accomplishing the mission. 
Lastly, I want to take a step back and tell you about our path to certifying for the Basic Phase in damage control. This required the crew to demonstrate proficiency in 25 separate drills. As fate would have it, Senior Chief Will Merchen – who is in the audience today and a Cole Hero – oversaw our certification as the Afloat Training Group team lead. Knowing well that he was one of the Cole Heroes who fought to save our ship and was now onboard training us – was not only humbling but maybe a little bit daunting.  We always feel a deep sense of responsibility to measure up to their towering legacy, but the serendipity here was hard to miss.  Would we be up to the task? 
Well, you would be glad to know that we did what 'Determined Warriors' always do.  We cast our doubts aside and charged ahead, determined to succeed. Because we are committed to upholding the legacy of the Cole Heroes. Senior Chief Merchen and his team certainly challenged us, because he also is deeply committed to upholding that legacy. At the conclusion of the second week of training, Cole had achieved early certification in 22 of 25 of those drills.  The crew’s performance was stunning. It was a reflection of the grit, determination and fighting spirit of our Sailors. Senior Chief – we know we stand on the shoulders of you and your shipmates. We will not let you down. 
The 'Determined Warrior' fighting spirit is, in the end, a reflection of the American spirit. From Sgt. Darrell Cole at Iwo Jima to our Cole Heroes on Oct. 12, 2000, and through today’s 'Determined Warriors,' we all draw our strength from the nation we swore to defend.  It’s how we roll.  You don’t have to look very far or for very long to see it all around you. We saw the American spirit in the Hampton Roads community 20 years ago when they warmly embraced a grieving Cole family.  We see the American spirit today in the Cole Gold Star families.  They are the very definition of bravery and courage in the face of adversity and tragedy.  And we see the American spirit burning brightly within the FBI agents, some of whom are with us today. They responded immediately to the attack on Cole two decades ago and continue to doggedly pursue justice to this day in the name of our fallen 17 shipmates. This leaves me convinced that the American spirit burns bright and will continue to outshine the darkness of our enemies. We stand here today as a powerful reminder that the fearless resolve of United States is as strong as the 8,500 tons of steel you see behind me.
As Cole sails into the future, storm clouds appear to be forming … the seas are building … we can see threats on the horizon. Rest assured that if we find ourselves in a smoke filled compartment…or sailing through dangerously thick fog … or facing overwhelming odds, those 17 bright, shining stars we care for so diligently, will be there to remind us of our duty to carry forward … the Determined Warrior legacy.
Thank you.

- END -

Watch full ceremony below.


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