ADEN, Yemen -- by 1stLt. Jeff Landis
ADEN, Yemen - After providing more than three weeks of assistance to USS Cole after a terrorist bomb killed 17 Sailors and wounded 39, the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group watched the guided missile destroyer get underway again Sunday, this time with the help of the Norwegian dry dock ship Blue Marlin.
The contracted heavy-lift ship will carry the battered destroyer on its journey back to the United States via the Cape of Good Hope at the southernmost tip of Africa.
Shortly after the bombing, the 13th MEU (SOC) and Tarawa ARG were called from the Arabian Gulf to respond to the terrorist bombing, forming Joint Task Force Determined Response. The joint task force included the frigate USS Hawes, the destroyer USS Donald Cook, the supply ship USS Camden, the fleet ocean tug USNS Catawba and various other support elements from Commander, U.S. Fifth Fleet.
The 13th MEU (SOC)/Tarawa ARG team augmented security, provided assistance to the FBI and other support agencies and provided messing and billeting to the crew of USS Cole, and command and control for Operation Determined Response off the coast of Yemen.
Cooks from Headquarters and Service Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/1, provided hot meals after the Cole lost use of its dining facilities. Getting a hot meal was not something Cole Sailors expected would be such a treat after pulling into Aden.
Two hours after USS Cole pulled into Aden harbor for a refueling stop, unknown terrorists, riding in a small boat, struck the port side hull of the Cole with a deadly blow. The explosion was heard round the world, conjuring bitter memories of the 1996 bombing of the Air Force barracks in Dharan, killing 19, and the devastating memories of the 1983 terrorist bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 Americans. It was less than two weeks before the anniversary of the Beirut bombing when USS Cole added its name to the history books of senseless terrorist acts. The explosion killed 17 of the Cole's crew and tore a hole in the ship more than 40 feet in diameter, immobilizing it in the harbor.
Once on scene, the 13th MEU (SOC)/Tarawa ARG provided immediate security to allow Yemeni-contracted tug boats to push USS Cole out of the harbor so that USNS Catawba could hook up a towline and drag the crippled ship out to meet the Blue Marlin. Catawba towed Cole for nearly 23 nautical miles to a docking site to link up with the Blue Marlin. After Blue Marlin ballasted and sunk down into the water, USS Cole was then positioned over the submerged deck. Rigging lines were securely tied off to several pillars and the command tower to fasten the Cole to the Blue Marlin. The dry dock ship then began to slowly deballast, lifting Cole out of the water.
USS Cole was part of the United States' ongoing mission to help build stability in the Middle East, when disaster struck.
"I feel an emptiness inside, because I keep thinking about a lot of shipmates who have been pulled away," said Master Chief Petty Officer James Parlier, USS Cole command master chief. "I wish they were standing beside us now."
"It was definitely an overwhelming experience," said Cpl. Kenneth C. Harrison, a 20-year-old administrative clerk from Azle, Texas, who spent a week in Aden to provide critical accountability of all U.S. forces ashore. "I was just glad to have contributed in some way. I also felt comfortable knowing that our own Marines were providing security for us."
"The (Cole) crew is pretty exhilarated right now," said Parlier. "Whoever did this to us is not going to break our American spirit. We are finally getting out of Aden, and we are looking forward to getting home."
"Our response to the attack on the Cole required us to carry out a wide range of tasks which MEU(SOC)s do not usually perform," said Col. Christopher J. Gunther, commanding officer of 13th MEU (SOC). "As always, the Marines and Sailors of the Tarawa ARG/13th MEU(SOC) team responded magnificently to the challenge and have worked 24 hours a day over the last three weeks to ensure the Cole's every need was fully met. They have turned this act of terrorism into a visible demonstration of American resolve to remain engaged with our allies worldwide, and I am extremely proud of their efforts."
The 13th MEU(SOC) is currently on a six-month deployment to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf.