Article By: MC1 Leonardo Carrillo
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, are widely considered across the world as one of the most brazen acts of war against the United States in modern times. It is also, of course, not the first time Al Qaeda has initiated an attack on U.S. property either.
Retired Cmdr. Kirk S. Lippold, former Commanding Officer (CO) of the USS Cole, speaks to Naval Postgraduate School students, faculty and staff during a Secretary of the Navy Guest Lecture, Apr. 3 in King Auditorium. Lippold was CO of the Cole when a suicide bomber attacked the ship in October of 2000 while refueling in the port of Aden, Yemen.
On the morning of October 12, 2000, a suicide bomber on a trash barge attacked the guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG-67) while the ship was refueling in the port of Aden, Yemen. The attack claimed the lives of 17 sailors, injured 39 others and fundamentally changed the way the Navy operates today.
As part of its Secretary of the Navy Guest Lecture Series (SGL), the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) hosted a lecture, Apr. 3, by retired Cmdr. Kirk S. Lippold, Commanding Officer (CO) of Cole at the time of the attack.
Lippold gave a moving, step-by-step account of the events of that October morning when a routine refueling stop turned into a fight for survival for Cole and her crew.
“At 11:18 in the morning, there was a thunderous explosion,” said Lippold as he described the initial moments of the attack. “You could feel all 505 feet and 8,400 tons of guided missile destroyer suddenly bow, flex, and thrust violently up and to the right.”
Lippold said that it was the training and determination of the crew, along with the principles of their command philosophy and crisis management ability that saved the ship that day. He said that the training and hardships that the crew endured in preparation for the deployment were crucial in the fight to save the ship.
“They responded magnificently,” said Lippold. “They fell back on their training, and did what was necessary to save that ship and save their shipmates.”
Lippold said that serving with those Sailors aboard that ship was one of the greatest experiences he ever had. He added that serving at sea was an exercise in true leadership, and emphasized that the hallmark of management was integrity, and the ability to make the right decisions at the right time for the right reason.
“It is one of the most phenomenal gifts that you will ever receive,” he said. “The Navy is made at sea doing what is necessary to safeguard the nation’s interests on the high seas. Going out there and having that opportunity to lead those young men and women is really what leadership is about.”
The attack on the Cole sparked a series of changes that had far-reaching effects to force protection and security – from the physical safety afforded by forces on the ground or at sea to intelligence, political and cultural considerations as well.
“History changed,” said Lippold. “You spend a career hoping, training and praying that something like that never happens. But in that instant, in less then three milliseconds, the course of the Navy changed forever.”
Lessons learned from the Cole incident were responsible for changes in intelligence gathering and sharing, training, rules of engagement and overall coordination, all leading to fundamental changes in the way the Navy operates in the 21st century.
Closer to the NPS campus, one of the lessons learned from the Cole bombing also led to the development of NPS’ Regional Security Education Program (RSEP). RSEP is an outreach program that attempts to better educate naval forces by providing custom education about the regions in which they operate.
Lippold said that it was important to develop these kinds of programs, and believes there is still much to be done to ensure the combat effectiveness of the Navy and its Sailors.
A graduate of NPS himself, Lippold stressed the importance of higher education. He said that a graduate education unquestionably contributes to an officer’s active duty career because of the critical thinking and problem solving abilities students develop during their time at school.
“We need to send more people through to get a masters degree,” said Lippold. “That ability to think critically is what expands our ability to face the national security issues we have today.”
Lippold said that these issues are just as important today as they were a decade ago, that the war on terror continues and that it fell upon the officers on duty today to prepare for the next challenges. “We’re still in the middle of this war and it’s going to go on for a long time," he said. "Using the brain power and education this place gives you, you’re the ones that are going to think through the problems with critical analysis that are going to keep this nation safe."
Posted April 13, 2012