On October 12, 2000, the USS Cole entered the port of Yemen for a refueling operation. As the ship was moored alongside a refueling dolphin a small boat laden with explosives mixed in with boats removing garbage from the ship. The bombers detonated alongside the USS Cole, blowing a 40×40-foot hole in the side of the ship and tearing through the interior.
At the FBI’s Washington Field Office (WFO) a Rapid Deployment Team was assembled to respond to the bombing. Agents from the New York Field Office AQ squad were sent to Andrews AFB along with the WFO Team. As the Evidence Response Team (ERT)Team Leader chosen for this deployment we worked to assemble an eight-person ERT. We arrived in Yemen and worked with experts from the FBI’s Explosives Unit and USS Cole Capt. Kirk Lippold and his crew.
There were no manuals written on evidence recovery on a Navy destroyer in a deepwater port. We would soon learn our most important task was to recover 12 of the 17 sailors killed in action whose remains lay inside of the wreckage. A small team was chosen for this difficult task. Working with NCIS agents and Capt. Lippold, agents John Adams, Kevin Finnerty, Garrett McKenzie and myself would spend days locating and recovering the remains of the fallen with honor and dignity.
This would prove to be one of the most difficult deployments in all of our careers. Garrett responded to an email today with an amazing reply: “It has been a long dusty road, but it is easier at the end of the day with friends covered in the same dust.”
Please take time to remember the fallen from the USS Cole and the entire crew and their families: Andrew Triplett, Richard Costelow, Kevin Rux, Kenneth Clodfelter, Mark Nieto, Ronald Owens, Timothy Saunders, Ronchester Santiago, Lakeina Francis, Timothy Gauna, Cherone Gunn, James McDaniels, Lakiba Palmer, Joshua Parlett, Patrick Roy, Gary Swenchonis, Craig Wibberley. In addition, 37 shipmates suffered physical injuries.