When guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) and the rest of the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group departed Norfolk, Va., March 11, they were prepared for their deployment.
The crew had trained and prepared for many months to be able to provide maritime security, stability and an important naval presence in the US 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility.
What the Porter’s crew faced in the early hours of August 12, however, was a challenge nobody had expected. That morning, everything changed.
“I will never forget the sound. It was incredible. After that, nothing was the same,” said Gunner’s Mate Seaman Aaron Wells-Wood, who witnessed what would prove to be a life-changing moment for many of the Sailors aboard Porter that day.
While completing a transit of the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important and strategic waterways, Porter collided with a 160,000 ton, Japanese owned merchant tanker.
While no one on either ship was injured during the collision, it required the crew of Porter to set general quarters and, in the moments after impact, take action to maintain and preserve the ship’s ability to sustain operability and combat damage.
In those key moments, Porter’s crew rose to the occasion, proving that the training they had undergone throughout their Navy careers had been worthwhile.
“I’ll say it simply – there was no way that a husband, wife, mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter wasn’t going to come back home to their loved ones,” said Damage Controlman 1st Class Sean Connolly, one of the first Sailors on scene to combat the damage caused by the collision.
Awarded a Navy Achievement Medal for his actions that day, Connolly is quick to mention that he is but one of many Sailors who performed exactly as they had been trained.
“As with most things in the damage control world, the unexpected can happen fast, often too fast to stop and think about what to do. That’s where training comes in, and it paid off here,” said Connolly.
The actions of Connolly and his fellow Sailors aboard Porter ensured that Porter would be able to steam, under her own power, to a pier in the United Arab Emirates where the repair process would begin.
Technical representatives and Arleigh-Burke class engineers and specialists arrived from across the Navy to assess the damage. The repair process they would then undertake would become the most extensive voyage repair, a name given to repairs performed while deployed, ever completed.
For more than a month, Porter Sailors, Naval Sea Systems Command and Navy Regional Maintenance Command engineers and civilian contractors worked day and night to get Porter back up and running as intended.
“Because of where the ship was damaged, a lot of cables had to be cut to remove the damaged steel. This meant that we had to figure out a way to return and restore vital equipment functions and power. It was no easy task,” said Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class Casey Schneider, part of Porter’s combat systems electrical division, who was closely involved in the repairs.
After the repairs were complete, and Porter was operational again, the decision was made for the ship to return home with her strike group.
“The teamwork and resilience the crew of Porter showed in overcoming the initial shock of the collision and working to get the ship into shape to safely sail again was awe-inspiring,” said Rear Admiral Ted Carter, commander, Enterprise Carrier Strike Group. “As the Commander of the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group, I could not be more proud of what these young men and women accomplished in the hours following the collision as well as the weeks following during which Porter was rebuilt for duty. It is a testament to the quality of our force and what makes the U.S. Navy so formidable.”
For many Sailors, the memory of the collision in the Strait of Hormuz, and what it ultimately led to, still lingers.
“I will never forget that night and how surreal it seemed at the time. But, I also know that the actions of everyone aboard saved lives. Not just one or two, but everyone’s. We came together and that’s important. I’ll remember that more than anything else,” said Wells-Wood.
The crew of Porter came together on that early morning in August. Now, the men and women of Porter are coming together once again; only this time, they are coming together with the strike group they deployed with… and the mission is to return home.