In a recent op-ed piece in the Newport News Daily Press, John L. Wiley accused the crew and officers of USS COLE of “fail[ing] the United States and the Navy” when the ship was attacked in Yemen by Islamic radicals. That’s a pretty damning accusation, and much undeserved.

There was undoubtedly blame to be assigned, and it was, but to blame the crew, which implies EVERY Sailor onboard, is unfair. Which members of the crew, specifically, failed, and how so? Media reports abound regarding the incident, the aftermath, and investigation; I won’t go into all that. What I will do is point out that the crew was vindicated.

In the words of then Secretary of Defense Cohen:

“One other aspect of this incident deserves specific mention – namely, the extraordinary professionalism and heroism of the COLE’s Captain and crew in the aftermath of the attack.”

While allowance was made for assignment of accountability, Secretary Cohen also pointed out that:

“Navy leaders have concluded that the overall performance of the captain and his crew does not warrant punitive action.”

Well sir, there were many lessons learned. You can read about them in the USS COLE Commission Report. And now is not the time to talk less about this tragedy. The more we talk about the lessons learned, and remind our Sailors, and our citizens, that we still live a dangerous world, and young Americans are still going into harm’s way, the better. 

Mr. Wiley finished his report with:

“I’m certain there were many “lessons learned.” And the less said now about this sad and embarrassing failure of U.S. forces’ security, the better.”

Blame the crew? I think not. Instead, Mr. Riley should join Secretary Cohen “in paying tribute to the seventeen men and women of USS COLE who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. Their performance of duty was in the highest tradition of the U.S. Navy… Our nation shall not forget their sacrifice…” Mr. Wiley obviously doesn’t share those sentiments.




Posted by Fouled Anchor in Navy
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  • Hayball

    Mr Wiley doesn’t have much in common with the Cole crew. That’s not a compliment, though he might think it could be.

    There are a few things he didn’t go into, for example:

    Who decided to fuel ships as a matter of routine in an Arab port?
    (Either the Naval Component Commander or the AOR Unified Commander,
    please correct me in detail if I am wrong.)

    Why not unrep?
    (Money, politics, correct me if I am wrong.)

    What was the local threat analysis provided to the Commanding Officer prior to entering port?
    (Unchanged, non specific, correct me if I am wrong.)

    Who had the power, in the port, to impose a no closer than 100 yard rule and enforce it with continuous armed water patrol or other tactic (barriers, continuously manned sandbagged heavy machine gun emplacements on the pier, manned loaded gun onboard)with immediate continuous on scene deadly force authorization per the status of forces agreement and combined ROR in place?
    (Host nation local commander only, correct me if I am wrong.)

    Who is responsible for security in the port by the status of forces agreement? (Host nation, correct me if I am wrong.)

    In what way did CO or ship degrade their force protection measures elow those followed for the ships in the same port for the same purpose during the previous two years?
    (None.)

    Once attacked, what way was the ships tactical response incorrect.
    (In no way, fire discipline held, no innocent host nationals fired upon or hurt, no additional attacking forces in area.)

    What was the quality of performance of the surviving crew after the initial surprise attack. (Correct, appropriate, professional, all that could be done in the tactical situation at the time.)

    Did they save the ship? (Hell, yes!)

    Could an equal number of Wiley clones, dropped by some miracle in place of the crew 10 minutes before the attack, have done anything but die in place? (Opinions may vary, mine: Nope.)

    Coddled well paid men in suit and tie, working in a comfortable, safe, air conditioned office, should be more circumspect criticizing honest sailors who wear dirty work coveralls in torrid heat, surrounded by a thousand hazards, doing arduous and difficult work, under military orders and strict discipline, for meager pay, on a man of war. Even on a quiet, routine, in port weekend duty day in Newport News, much less bunkering somewhere in Araby.

    Wiley reveals his ignorance and arrogance. He ought to be ashamed of himself. So should the editor of the Newport News paper, for not spiking Wiley’s poison pen piece.

  • Fouled Anchor

    Darn, was writing late last night. That should read Mr. Wiley in the last para.

  • Byron

    Chief, not a damn thing wrong with your article!

  • Fouled Anchor

    Much appreciated Byron.

  • JW – USN Master Chief, Retired & Proud!

    Excellent posting Fouled Anchor, and excellent replies by all!

    Mr. Wiley should absolutely be ashamed of himself, at a minimum, for publicly stating his opinion that the entire crew should be blamed.

    Be sure to check out the excellent posts that some of your fellow officers made on the Daily Press’ blog site: http://www.topix.net/forum/source/hampton-roads-daily-press/TB3R46QNJASARDII2#lastPost

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Mr. Wiley’s comments notwithstanding, there are questions to be asked.

    1. Was there an AT/FP officer assigned on USS Cole? If not, why not?

    2. If so, what guidance was received regarding security posture in port?

    3. Was proper means of security available to the crew? Did they have permission to provide/obtain those means?

    One thinks back to October of 1983 and Beirut, and the stories of BLT 1/8 being ordered to dismantle barriers, and stand ‘security” posts with unloaded weapons and no belts in the crew-served.

    In Ramadi, FP was the life-or-death issue on many occasions. And sometimes guidance was politically driven, as if showing one’s throat to the wolf will somehow keep him at bay.

    There was no security except American security. We were not willing to risk our lives on a “good faith” gesture of having Iraqi police be who provided our security. In April 2004, they were actively infiltrated by hostiles, and to have agreed to such a silly and ill-advised idea for the sake of a gesture would have gotten a lot of people killed. Or worse.

    With luck, we have learned from USS Cole. We were dammed slow to learn from Beirut. One of the good things Rummy did was say publicly that, when getting shot at, it is okay to shoot back.

    Oh, and shall we stop treating terrorism by a hostile armed force with an ideology that has our destruction as its stated goal as a law enforcement problem? It isn’t September 10th, any more.

  • Byron

    “One of the good things Rummy did was say publicly that, when getting shot at, it is okay to shoot back”

    No offense but if “some fine person” points a weapon at me, I’m going to blow him out of his shoes. Better to be judged by 12, than carried by six.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Byron, you are a potential extremist…

  • Byron

    Yes, sir, I’m extremely protective of my fourth point of contact, sir ;)

  • Hayball

    URR:
    Yes. Follow precedent. On board, yes. Authorized for immediate use, no. ROE’s, such as they were, inadequate for that attack.

    As I’ve said before, an asymetric attack is one from an unanticipated direction, delivered in a non doctrinal manner, successful because the chain of command hasn’t thought the matter through and the enemy found a vulnerability we were headblind to.

    In Cole’s case, a smiling waving man drove a nondescript craft alongside and set off a major explosive charge, destroying himself, said craft and doing the same damage to Cole as a torpedo hit amidships.

    The target to shoot back at was…..? Harmless civilians trying to make a living in a subsistence third world economy.

    Firing on and sinking every nondescript craft that approaches close aboard while waving and smiling was not a realistic option.

    Ships should not be ordered into ports of nations who do not have the capability of protecting them. ROK security in Chinhae is essentially flawless. Any self governing port in Araby is chaos. Threat intelligence provided for them is dubious at best, and useless for contingency planning (in my limited experience).

    The Captain would likely have been relieved if he put an armed boat in the water and fired shots across the bow of an bumboat that got too close. The host nation government would have likely closed the port to USN ships.

    The Captain followed precedent. Long standing precedent. Which he was expected to do.

    I’ve been an AT/FP officer and whatever it was called prior to that title on a heap o’ ships. Shooting up the local water craft for coming too close was never an authorized plan.

    Now we have ROE to address such a matter. If you think the situation is any less dicey than it was I know a bridge in Brooklyn that is an excellent investment.

    Some ship CO was screwed and some of our sailors doomed the minute the Naval Component Commander didn’t barge into to the Unified AOR Commander’s office and open with “General, with all due respect, this idea that we should refuel in this port instead of unrep’ing at sea is a really bad idea, and I am utterly opposed to it.”

    Any body wants to throw rocks at somebody, I know a Marine four star and a Navy flag, now retired with goodbye kiss awards, who are overdue.

    CO Cole is in the same category as CO Panay. Leave him alone. Ditto his wardroom and crew. They had no control before the boom and did their jobs superbly after.

    You want to go after Flag Officers who sign on to traps they should know better than to, and then keep mum after the catastrophe, well that’s a target rich environment.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “You want to go after Flag Officers who sign on to traps they should know better than to, and then keep mum after the catastrophe, well that’s a target rich environment.”

    Roger on asymmetric attacks. If the crew of Cole did what was expected, you are just right. Like skipper of Panay. I had heard that they did. Just like the checkpoint machine gunner in Beirut with the ammo belt beside the weapon.

    ‘Some ship CO was screwed and some of our sailors doomed the minute the Naval Component Commander didn’t barge into to the Unified AOR Commander’s office and open with “General, with all due respect, this idea that we should refuel in this port instead of unrep’ing at sea is a really bad idea, and I am utterly opposed to it.”’

    What? And disrupt some really nice groupthink?

  • Zen

    We ought to face the fact none of us know what the CO was or wasn’t told. Given my experience in and around the Gulf of Aden, I find it difficult to believe the COLE wasn’t maintaining the highest security posture. But I wasn’t the old man, so I don’t know.

    I think there’s some attempt to pin this all on Zinni and Franks. I’m not sure that’s fair. After all, Yemen was used as a refueling stop for a number of years. The attack the COLE suffered could have easily taken place in any number of ports the Navy uses.

    “Oh, and shall we stop treating terrorism by a hostile armed force with an ideology that has our destruction as its stated goal as a law enforcement problem? ”

    Sorry, but it is a law enforcement problem to a great extent.

  • Jay

    I went back & read the Newport News piece — not sure why the author says that lately there has been more discussion of the COLE attack.

    Perhaps more discussion about it in the Newport News area? Perhaps related to ship design & battle damage?

    I thought that pretty much it was understood by all, since the COLE commission report was released, that the CO & crew did all anyone could have expected them to do, given the same circumstances. And that later we saw the CO’s career was stalled, and then ended.

    I do think that AT/FP really wasn’t given the focus it deserved until after 9/11, when danger was brought home to us.

    As bad as it sounds — whether the Beirut USMC attack, the attack on the COLE, Khobar Towers, the Kenyan Embassy attack, and others, I think many looked at those, and figured “well, that just happens in bad areas”.

    We’ve learned all right. But at a hefty price, repeating itself across many years.

    Blaming the crew of the USS COLE is beyond the pale.

  • Fouled Anchor

    “…not sure why the author says that lately there has been more discussion of the COLE attack.”

    Recent discussion about the COLE started because the families of the fallen recently reached a financial settlement. See another Newport News Daily story here:

    http://www.dailypress.com/news/local/virginia/dp-us–usscole-lawsuit0422apr22,0,7186257.story

    That’s what led to Mr. Wiley’s article and another of his opening statements:

    “If I was a member of the crew on the Cole that infamous day, I wouldn’t be talking about what happened in the context of somebody “owing” me something.”

    So, not only did Mr. Wiley attack the crew, he actually used the financial settlement the families received, not members of the crew, to launch into this attack. Another statement Mr. Wiley should become familiar with and appreciate is this one from the news article referenced above:

    “Thomas Wibberley of Williamsport, Md., who son, Seaman Apprentice Craig Bryan Wibberley, was killed in the attack said the money should help children of the victims.

    “They’re going to get a good amount of this money and get trust funds, and they’re the ones to be taken care of,” he said.”

    John Wiley was off-base in many ways in his vicious attack. Beyond the pale indeed.

  • Hayball

    Zen:

    Allow me to clarify. There is nothing to pin, except decisions made in good faith, on limited information, which subsequent events show were flawed. 20/20 hindsight is pointless.

    The illusion that greater rank equals higher intelligence, wisdom, prescience, or common sense is, well, an illusion. Some men blessed with high rank don’t fall for the trap that comes from all the sunshine that gets pumped up their kilt. Didn’t some bunch or another assign somebody to remind big winners that victory doesn’t confer diety? That goes for victory in the war of dueling hyperbole that occurs in selection boards, too.

    JO’s and hardworking, long suffering John and Jane Gob draw a sailor’s pay and run a sailor’s risks (H/T: J. Ford & J. Wayne).
    So do middle grade officers wearing a command at sea pin.

    Lately stars on your collar seem to confer a certain aristocratic indemnity. Not a good idea, IMO. I’m of the “to those to whom much is given, much is required” school of thought. Aristocracy is a bad idea. We need to lose it.

    Moving on, sentries don’t act as LEO’s. When a man declares war on you, it’s a war, whether he just commands himself or a million loyal warriors.

    It’s a war.

    Jay: You got it, in one.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Zen,

    “Sorry, but it is a law enforcement problem to a great extent.”

    That is insular and absurdly naive, and demonstrates lack of understanding of our enemy and his intentions/abilities. Such causes foolish decisions, half measures, and a mindset that soon expresses to the world that we do not take this problem seriously, or are willing to deal with it. Phrases like “man-caused disaster”, and “overseas contingency operations”. “Engaging one’s enemies” now means reaching out an olive branch to people vowed to our destruction, instead of killing those intractable fanatics who need killing.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    *Burma Shave*

    “We ought to face the fact none of us know what the CO was or wasn’t told.”

    My intent was not to express that we did or even should know. But SOMEBODY does. Bet dollars to donuts that crew did everything they were supposed to or were allowed to.

    And what they were told is a direct reflection of the readiness and mindset of the HQ that told them. If one wants to begin to ensure we are never surprised again, that ain’t a half bad place to start. Even if the stars don’t like it.

  • Byron

    URR, I got no problem holding out the olive branch…as long as I’m holding a Desert Eagle in the other…

  • Hayball

    Byron:

    Hand held weapons are of limited interest for successful negotiations. The olive branch is of course in one hand. In the other I prefer the fire key for a minimum of 24 tubes of trident missiles, with the permission to fire key in the switch lock and set to “authorized”.

    Nothing like having the other side of the table focused on the benefits of peace.

    As usual certain administrative details must be attended to before entering into negotiations. I leave those to others in our “merry band of cutthroats” (hat tip: URR) to amplify and elicidate.

  • Byron

    Hayball, you’re the definition of “talk softly and carry a big freakin’ stick”!

  • Fouled Anchor

    And here I was going to suggest Byron go with something a little lighter than a Desert Eagle…maybe a Kimber or Springfield XD. Something tells me Hayball’s solution is a little more intimidating. All good international negotiations need an attack boat with warshots loaded.

  • Hayball

    FA: Genuine intimidation is the key to successful negotiation. OBTW: it’s a two way street.

    And now for a brief interlude of literary culture, to lend a note
    of dignity to our otherwise raucous din…

    “…Down under, far from strife or din,
    When they are ready to begin
    No flag is flown, no fuss is made
    More than the shearing of a pin.
    That is the custom of ‘The Trade’.”

    Kipling: “The Trade.”

    All military advantages are fleeting, don’t waste them, and preserve them as long as possible. Just Star Trek series I basic stuff. What? You aren’t a student of the classics? Most disappointing.

    Now about the administrative details…

  • Fouled Anchor

    There was obviously something in Hayball’s coffee this morning (me types whilst giggling).

  • Hayball

    URR:

    ” Bet dollars to donuts that crew did everything they were supposed to or were allowed to.

    And what they were told is a direct reflection of the readiness and mindset of the HQ that told them. If one wants to begin to ensure we are never surprised again, that ain’t a half bad place to start. Even if the stars don’t like it.”

    My point exactly. Perhaps more economically phrased. Tip o’ me hat.

    Cheers.

  • Hayball

    FA:

    Coffee had nuthin’ to do with it.

    But I digress…

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “FA: Genuine intimidation is the key to successful negotiation. OBTW: it’s a two way street.”

    Jes’ send out your Chief to surrender;
    it’s worse if you fights or you runs,

    You can hide where you please, or skip up the trees,
    but you can’t get away from the guns.

  • PK

    i am not saying that we need a guinea walking behind the CNO whispering in his ear “this too shall pass”.

    perhaps though, there should be a sign in the flag outhouse “if you mess up many will feel the pain.”

    as far as having an ssbn ready at a moments notice: you students of history will remember that when the boys were negotiating with the northkoreans/chinese in the “police action” nothing happened until the day after the various human wave attacks. that is that unless there was a fresh pile of their troops bodies less than a couple of days old they didn’t talk turkey.

    perhaps attitude adjustment before talks not after?

    C

  • JohnC

    As a retired naval officer I am not afraid of people blaming a ship’s crew. But what must be understood is that generally that means there is a failure of leadership. For a crew is only as good as its commander.

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