On October 12, 2000, suicide terrorists exploded a small boat alongside the USS Cole (DDG 67) as it was refueling in the Yemeni port of Aden. The blast ripped a 40-foot-wide hole on Cole, killing 17 Sailors and injuring many more.
Steps have been taken since then to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again both overseas and in the United States, including America’s Shipyard. “Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s (NNSY) Harbor Patrol Unit (HPU) stands watch 24/7 365 days of the year to keep all of NNSY’s assets, including employees, safe from potential threats,” said HPU’s (Code 800) Master-at-Arms Seaman Lauren McCarty.
Between recreational and commercial vessels, there are well over 100,000 movements annually on the Elizabeth River which runs along NNSY. Some boaters transiting the Intercoastal Waterway are not familiar with the naval restricted areas along the southern branch of the Elizabeth River and tend to come into HPU’s area of operation.
“We are the first line of defense on the waterfront,” said Master-at-Arms Third Class David Lanfranco. “Therefore we have to be confident not only in ourselves, but also with the people we work with.”
“We are a family,” said HPU’s Leading Petty Officer Master-at-Arms First Class Adam Walton. “We cannot afford to be anything less. We have to trust each other completely in order to be on the same page. The coxswain has to know what the crewman is thinking and the crewman needs to know what the coxswain is thinking.”
The coxswain is the Petty Officer in charge of the craft and the primary boat operator. The individual is charged with steering the correct course, controlling the throttles and engine speed, and maneuvering the boat safely in the close quarters of the shipyard’s area of responsibility. All crew members and passengers must follow the coxswain’s instruction. “Age and rank doesn’t matter,” said HPU’s Acting Division Officer Chief Master-at-Arms John Hicks. “If the coxswain is a 19 year old seaman and I being a chief petty officer is his crewman, I have to follow his instruction when it pertains to the operation of the boat.”
While on patrol, the crewman is constantly scanning the area for any suspicious activity. If the situation warrants it, they man a M240 machine gun to deter any potential threats. “This is what we signed up for,” said Master-at-Arms Second Class Brandon Spears. “It’s our job to put our lives out there and protect Norfolk Naval Shipyard."
NNSY’s HPU will continue to stand watch to protect NNSY. “I love my job. It’s an adventure,” said Master-at-Arms Third Class Evan Shankle. “There’s no prouder moment, knowing that my presence on the waterway keeps America’s Shipyard safe. It’s my job and I am proud of it.”