War on Terrorism

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

USS Cole Crewmember Shares Experience with Navy Recruits

By Lt. Cesar Mantilla II, Recruit Training Command Public Affairs

NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- A Sailor's personal account of the October 12, 2000 attack on USS Cole (DDG 67) while it was harbored and refueling in the Yemeni port of Aden, gave a sense of reality to boot camp training for many recruits at Recruit Training Command (RTC) March 14.

Lt. Elroy Newton, a crewmember stationed aboard Cole during the October 2000 attack, addressed the recruits during a presentation in the USS Arleigh Burke recruit barracks. Senior Chief Information Systems Technician (SW/AW) Steve Crisp, RTC's special programs leading chief petty officer, arranged the presentation to underscore the basic principles recruits learn at boot camp.

"I heard a presentation about the USS Cole that Lt. Newton gave in class," Crisp said. "I wanted to find a way to make boot camp lessons real for recruits and, when I heard Lt. Newton's presentation, I asked him if he would speak to them."

Newton agreed to be the guest speaker and discussed his experience, complete with pictures from the terrorist attack.

"I was standing watch on the forward, starboard refueling station when the explosion happened," Newton said. "After that, stuff just started raining out of the sky. I remember seeing a life raft floating down and I didn't know what it was at the time. I was crouched against the bulkhead trying not to get hit by anything."

As he recounted the beginning of the attack, he displayed a picture of an orange life raft hanging from the bridge.

"Right after the attack, it was chaos," Newton said. "No one knew exactly what happened. I ordered the people on the pier to stop refueling and disconnect the hose. The captain was also yelling at the same people from higher up on the bridge."

Shortly after the explosion, Newton proceeded to Central Control Station (CCS). He entered the ship, went down a ladderwell, and headed aft where CCS was located. The inside of the ship was dark since the explosion knocked all generators offline. As he approached the galley area, which was amidships, he noticed daylight.

"As I approached the galley line, I noticed daylight coming through," Newton said. "When I looked down that passageway, that's when I saw the hole in the side of the ship. I started to get a sense of what had happened."

Newton diverted from his plan to go to CCS when he noticed one of his injured shipmates in the galley.

"I tried to put him in a stretcher," Newton said. "But his legs were broken in five places and he wouldn't stay in the molded stretcher. I was getting extremely frustrated."

While Newton conveyed his emotional condition, he displayed a picture of the mangled galley with a yellow stretcher lying on the deck.

As the reality started sinking in, Newton and his shipmates responded and began to prepare the ship for whatever might come next. He talked about how the Sailors from the hull technician (HT) shop stepped up and assisted injured and trapped Sailors all over the ship. He also recalled another of his shipmates who took action.

"I remember there was a boatswain's mate 1st class (BM1) who controlled movement around the ship from the bridge right after the attack," Newton said. "Before that, he was the quiet type. So when we heard his voice, we were like, 'Whoa, is that BM1?' He really stepped up and handled things."

It took Newton approximately four years to be able to tell his story without choking up. When he was able to share it, he jotted down notes and put together a slideshow with firsthand pictures to tell anyone who would listen.

Seaman Recruit Curtissa Holmes, 19, from Orlanda, Fla., was impressed with Newton's poise as he shared the difficult details of the attack.

"I really think that he expressed himself very well," Holmes said. "He kept admirable military bearing while telling that horrible story. I can only imagine the horror and chaos he had to see that day. I don't know if I could have done it without bursting into tears, especially if I knew people that died."

Seaman Recruit Joshua Matthews, 30, from Monroe, La., was especially moved by the pictures that Newton shared.

"I was impressed with the story that he had to tell," Matthews said. "The pictures that he brought that showed the damage really struck home. I remember when the Cole was hit and all you ever see is that picture with the ship in the water and just the top half of the hole showing and you just don't understand the damage that was caused. You could drive a semi-truck through that hole."

Matthews was also struck by the story of the Sailors in the HT shop.

"When the time comes, we all have the opportunity to prove ourselves," Matthews said.

Holmes took a significant lesson from Newton's real-world story.

"It's important to stand a proper watch all the time," Holmes said. "You never know what could happen at any time. I learned to be at my best 24/7 because you never know when you might need to save someone's life."
Matthews was inspired by Newton's story.

"Even though they tried to sink our ship, we put the Cole back together and put it back out to sea," Matthews said. "We're not going to give up. We're not going to let them bring us down. We took the lessons learned and got better."

Ultimately, that's exactly why Newton shares his story.

"I want them to remember the lessons and learn from it," Newton said. "It's easy to forget sometimes."

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