It was late in the afternoon at Marine Aviation Training Support Group-33 when a female Petty Officer First Class entered through the front hatch. She looked confused and somewhat distraught. Only a few seconds passed before the Marine Noncommissioned Officer approached the sailor and asked, “May I help you ma’am?”
The nametag on her blouse read “Stewart.”
Petty Officer Stewart remained silent and stationary; she stared blankly at the deck. The Marine asked her, “Is everything okay, Petty Officer?”
The woman’s hands began shaking and her bottom lip started to quiver; tears began streaming down her face. She simply stood there; clutching her uniform hat in both hands and cried silently for about half a minute. The Marine NCO was feeling helpless at this point, but he waited patiently for the woman to say something —to let him know what the matter was.
Finally, through choked back tears, Petty Officer First Class Stewart explained why she went to MATSG-33 that day. The previous October, she was on duty aboard her ship talking with friends. One moment they were talking as usual —the next moment, all four of her friends were lying beside her. She was the only sailor left alive. Her ship: USS Cole (DDG 67). The date, 12 October 2000.
Petty Officer First Class Stewart said the real terror came seconds later when she realized that at any moment, another explosion might take the lives of even more of her shipmates. She was terrified that whoever attacked her ship were not finished yet … and then she saw the Marines. The Marines arrived at her location “on the double,” they secured the area, began treating survivors, they protected those who remained alive —including Petty Officer Stewart. Stewart knew that day, and everyone on the USS Cole knew that day, that terrorists got in their one and only shot —but no more lives would be lost that day because the Marines were there.
The NCO knew about the fleet security teams: Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Teams (FAST). The Petty Officer’s story stunned the NCO. He was at a loss for words. “I came by,” she said, “because I am getting ready to retire from active duty.” Looking up into the face of the NCO with tears continuing to stream down her face, she continued, “I needed to look into the face of a United States Marine and say ‘thank you’. I needed to have this closure.”
The Marine leaned over, gave her a hug, and said, “You’re welcome, shipmate.” It was a day when a Marine NCO was extremely proud to own the title, United States Marine.
The Marine told Petty Officer First Class Stewart that he would somehow communicate her appreciation to all Marines with every hope that the word would one day get passed to the FAST Marines aboard USS Cole. I am helping that Marine keep his promise.
Navy — Marine Corps
Shipmates since 1775