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PACIFIC OCEAN – Every Sailor knows the significance of September 11 and October 13. However, a less known but equally significant date is Oct. 12, 2000. On that date, the USS Cole (DDG 67) was moored pierside in the Yemeni port of Aden when a small boat rigged with explosives sped up to the port side of the ship and detonated, blowing a 1,600 square foot hole in the vessel’s hull. Nimitz’s very own Master Chief Operations Specialist Torrance Mabry was serving on the Cole at the time of the attack.
“That day we were pulling in, getting set up to moor. Once we were pierside, everything was good. Everything was fine,” said Mabry. “We thought it would be a regular port stop. It was right before lunch time, and the mess decks were not that full.”

The ship pulled into port for routine fueling when the horrific attack happened. Mabry had talked about how force protection measures were made more thorough and given additional attention following the attack on the Cole, and spoke about the floating barriers being used today, along with security patrol boats and extra armed watches topside to prevent similar attacks from happening. Unfortunately however, none of these procedures were extant, or as followed back then.

“People don’t realize but the barriers we have now, the watches we stand, the security apparatus in place is because of the USS Cole. People think it is because of 9/11. 9/11 was not the reason we do force protection the way we do. It’s because of the Cole.”

For those not familiar with the layout of a guided missile destroyer, the engine room is located under the Chief’s Mess and mess decks. The blast was so power full it upended the engine room into the Chiefs Mess and mess decks.

Mabry, a petty officer third class during the attack, was initially surprised by the explosion but kicked into an immediate war-fighting posture.

“When the event went down, I was at the aft end of the ship, back by laundry,” said Mabry. “I was walking up from there, and when it hit, I hit the overhead and became a little delirious. The lights kind of flickered and then went off. That’s when I knew there was a problem.”

Mabry knew that he had to get to his general quarters station and be prepared to fight for the ship, but he quickly realized the immenseness and severity of the situation.

“All I was thinking was ‘get to my GQ station.’ I was trying to get there through the starboard side and it was blocked off. Next I tried to get to the port side and it was also blocked off,” said Mabry. “I went topside and everyone was yelling ‘get back in the skin of the ship’ and that’s when I knew it was a hit.”

Upon reaching the Combat Information Center (CIC), Mabry came upon a scene of destruction and devastation.

“While traveling to CIC. There was a lot of smoke, fire, water, and bodies. Things you wouldn’t see on a normal day. Things you would see only in a horror film.”

The blast ultimately claimed the lives of 17 service members and wounded 39 more. Among the 17 deceased were Seaman Lakiba N. Palmer, Signalman Cherone L. Gunn, and Operations Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Saunders. The loss of these three Sailors and friends had a lasting impact on a young OS3 Mabry.

Petty Officer Mabry made three promises, “Seaman [Lakiba] Palmer wanted to be the first female Chief aboard a submarine,” said Mabry. ”’I obviously couldn’t be a female onboard a submarine but I will fulfill that dream and make Chief. Number two, Seaman [Cherone] Gunn wanted to outrank his dad who was an E7 (Sergeant First Class) in the Army. So he promised to fulfill the dream of being a Senior Chief for him. His third promise, OS2 [Timothy] Saunders, his whole goal in life was to be a Master Chief in the United States Navy, he and OS3 Mabry had the same goals so he promised as long as the Navy would allow him to serve he would make Master Chief to fulfill his dream and also Mabry’s dream. These where his three promises he made to the families of those that lost their love one on October 12, 2000.

As Sailors, we often talk about and mourn the events of September 11, and the importance of never forgetting those who lost their lives on that fateful day. Oppositely, we enjoy celebrating the Navy’s birthday on October 13. But we slowly have forgotten the event that changed the way the Navy operates, an event that has had a lasting impact on the Navy for decades. It may be of benefit to reflect on the sacrifices those who have served before us have undergone. The price they paid then is one of the reasons we are more secure now.

“The Navy promises you that they’ll pay for your school and they’ll show you the world, and these things are true and great. But in order to enjoy these benefits you put our life on the line, you raise your right hand to defend and protect at all cost and 17 Sailors did just that for the American people and their fellow service members,” said Mabry. “I would say ‘let’s not repeat history’. In 2000, 17 Sailors gave their lives for a way of life, in 2017, 17 Sailors gave their lives onboard the McCain and the Fitzgerald, let it not be another 17 years that we give 17 or even more lives. We have to understand the things that we do and the job that we have, you must learn it, you must know it, and you have to understand the seriousness of it every day. Do better today, learn your job today, be the best at what you do so that you can come home and enjoy tomorrow.”
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