By Lt. Cmdr. Roger Young, Commanding Officer of USS Firebolt (PC 10)
April 24, 2004
The sun is setting on an April night in Bahrain. U.S. 5th Fleet ships are conducting typical maritime security operations in the region.
But tonight, April 24, 2004, is anything but typical.
USS Firebolt (PC 10), a coastal patrol (PC) ship, is conducting routine patrol duties northwest of Khor Al Amaya Oil Terminal (KAAOT) in Iraq, when her crew spots two dhows near the boat’s platform. Following protocol for a maritime interdiction operation (MIO), the crew deploys a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) to investigate, manned by a crew of seven U.S. Navy and Coast Guard Sailors.
As the RHIB approached the first dhow, the dhow exploded in an apparent suicide bombing, taking three service members’ lives.
Remembering Our Past
Three service members lost their lives in the line of duty.
Coast Guardsman Damage Controlman 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal, 24, of Smithtown, New York.
Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Michael J. Pernaselli, 27, of Monroe, New York.
Signalman 2nd Class Christopher E. Watts, 28, of Knoxville, Tennessee.
As USS Firebolt’s commanding officer, the story of these three men is not lost on me—or my crew. Every year we honor their lives and reflect on what it means to be here, in Bahrain, on the same ship, in the same seas, walking the same decks as these men did before us.
Every morning I put on my uniform and glance at the three stars that grace my cover. These stars represent Bruckenthal, Pernaselli, and Watts’ heroism and willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice. Each member of USS Firebolt’s crew wears these stars that physically remind us of the legacy of those who passed. Every morning I swallow the understanding of what it means to be a junior officer in the Navy, commanding an incredible crew in the most fast-paced area of operations. The past is never far from my mind as we support maritime security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. Though time changes some aspects of the job, our mission stays the same.
Looking Forward to Our Future
USS Firebolt is one of 10 Cyclone-class coastal patrol (PC) ships forward-deployed to Bahrain to provide regional maritime security and conduct numerous operations and exercises to preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region.
Coastal patrol ships play a critical role in maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet. A typical day might include routinely patrolling local waters to enhance mariner-to-mariner relations while determining pattern of life in the maritime. In turn, these relationships allow the U.S. Navy and its partners to deter and disrupt the transport of illicit cargo that often funds terrorism and unlawful activities, while also reassuring law-abiding mariners in the region.
Coastal patrol ships also participate in numerous exercises and training evolutions with partners and allies in the region to build capacity, capability and interoperability. Just in the last quarter, Firebolt has participated in two multilateral exercises.
In February, Firebolt, along with USS Hurricane (PC 3) and island-class patrol boats USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332) and USCGC Aquidneck (WPB 1309), participated in Khunjar Haad, an Omani-led surface, air, and explosive ordinance disposal exercise with the Royal Navy of Oman, France’s Marine Nationale, and United Kingdom’s Royal Navy. The exercise was part of a routine theater security cooperation engagement plan and an opportunity for all participating partner nations to focus on increasing defensive proficiency in critical mission areas while supporting long-term regional stability and freedom of navigation.
Later in February, Firebolt worked alongside USS Tempest (PC 2), USS Hurricane (PC 3), USS USCGC Baranof (WPB 1318), and Iraqi and Kuwaiti vessels in a trilateral exercise, focusing on search-and-rescue operations, maritime infrastructure protection operations, and high value unit protection operations. This exercise was the third of its kind executed since March 2017 with the mission of strengthening regional partnerships, developing proficiency, improving long-term regional cooperation, safety and security, and enhancing interoperability in the mutual defense of the maritime domain in the Northern Arabian Gulf.
U.S. 5th Fleet is an incredibly busy area of operations as it’s responsible for approximately 2.5 million square miles of area including the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea. It’s also no surprise that PCs are meeting the mission to conduct maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts, and strengthen partner nations’ maritime capabilities in order to promote security and stability in the U.S. 5th Fleet AOR.
As we patrol these seas, the memory and legacy of those service members lost on April 24, 2004, is not lost on the crew of Firebolt.