Sunday, December 30, 2007

Shipmates Gone, but Not Forgotten

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the tragedy we suffered on the Mighty MSP as the ship left Plymouth, England. I've spent a good portion of last night and throughout the day today replaying that port call and that morning in particular in my head. It's been a flood of emotions, first impressions of the boat and crew (I had just met the ship there in Plymouth), images, sounds, smells, feeling the cold on my cheeks...

We took my family to Ko Olina to go snorkeling today. I spent most of the time just floating in the water and looking at the waves, thinking about how unforgiving the sea is, and how the boat was just swallowed by a tremendous sea swell that day in Plymouth. It took the heroic efforts of several of my shipmates battling through the onrush of extremely cold water gushing down the Forward Escape Trunk to retrieve one of our men overboard, unfoul the hatch, and get the hatch shut. (The report from the JAGMAN investigation specifically commended three guys for their bravery that day, and Commander Sixth Fleet awarded each of them a Navy Commendation Medal for it).

Once the hatch was shut, the crew came together and set to the tasks before us: providing critical medical care to several injured crew members and multiple cases of hypothermia in our wardroom-turned-infirmary, dewatering the Auxiliary Machinery Room (AMR) (not just the bilge mind you, the ROOM) and the athwartship's passageway and Crew's Mess, and getting the ship safely submerged and stable. E-Div worked around-the-clock for the next four days to painstakingly restore all the grounded electrical equipment that had been flooded with salt water in the AMR.

Through the course of that day and first night at sea, everyone was sort of numb and in a state of shock over what had happened. We knew four shipmates were no longer on board with us and had been picked up by the harbor police, but we did not know what had happened to them afterwards. That night at PD, we received the offline-encrypted message for the Captain, informing him that COB Higgins and Petty Officer Holtz had perished in the accident, that our other two shipmates were safe and recovering, and directing us to pull into Rota, Spain for the JAGMAN investigation. The Captain informed the then-XO, our senior rider from Naples, and me that night so that we had time to let it sink in, and we let the crew rest until the next morning when the Captain broke the news over the 1MC.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I have been blessed with a very tight-knit crew. The crew really came together and supported each other through the grief and mourning process, through the memorial services, through reliving the experience and retelling the story during the two investigations in Rota, through the sudden relief of the Commanding Officer, and getting the ship back out there again with a new CO, new XO, and new COB leading the ship onto the pointy-end of the spear. The SHIP would not have succeeded on that mission if it had not been for the professionalism of our crew, and the crew honored COB Higgins and Petty Officer Holtz in their successful completion of the mission.

My prayers are with the families of COB Higgins and Petty Officer Holtz. I have not forgotten you, shipmates, and I am thankful for the legacy you both left behind with such a great crew.

My prayers are also with my fellow shipmates who went through that terrible day and have it on their minds and refreshed in their memories on the anniversary of the accident today.

Mighty MSP in Plymouth, England
December 2006

1 comment:

Sam said...

Moment of silence and respect...