“It’s a small percent of us that do this”: USS Cole deploys for six months

The USS Cole deployed from Naval Station Norfolk Thursday morning with 330 sailors aboard.

The guided-missile destroyer is headed to the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf to perform maritime security operations and offer support for to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, said Cmdr. David P. Wroe.

“We are excited because we get to do what we’ve been training for,” Wroe said Thursday morning, standing on the pier in front of the ship.

“We are ‘determined warriors,'” he added, quoting the ship’s motto. “We don’t let anything stop us.”

The USS Cole, like other destroyers, is the muscle behind the USS George H. W. Bush Strike Group.

The ship, which was commissioned on June 8, 1996, is named after U.S. Marine Sgt. Darrell Samuel Cole. Cole received the Medal of Honor for his role in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

The 20-year-old ship’s history also includes the loss of 17 sailors during a suicide bombing at a port in Aden, Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000, according to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum’s website.

Deploying 10 days before Christmas, the departure was bitter-sweet for proud families who traveled across town and the country to wave goodbye to their sailors.

Among those was Heather White, 36, who said “see you soon” to her boyfriend, Chief Kevin Bultman.

“He just got back from 11 months in Africa. Now he’s leaving again for seven months,” White said tearfully.

White said she, Bultman and their children prepared for the deployment by celebrating Christmas a little early. The kids have already opened gifts, but White said she’ll be sending Bultman several packages while he’s deployed.

Elaine Valle, 17, and her parents, Amy and Erwin, traveled from the Bronx, Ny. to send their brother and son, Keene, on his second deployment.

The family dressed for the occasion, with Elaine wearing a “Navy sister” shirt that matched Erwin Valle’s “Navy dad” shirt.

“It’s always sad,” Elaine said. “We go for months at a time without hearing from him. When we do it’s really minimal – not enough to fill us with assurance.”

First Gunner’s Mate Cody Gammon had a crowd of family travel from Indiana and Florida to wave goodbye to him from the dock, including his wife, Paizley Gammon, 25, and his mother, Cathy Butler, 50.

Butler said when she was raising her son she always pictured him becoming a firefighter like other men in the family. She was shocked when he told her he’d enlisted in the Navy.

“He was struggling to figure out what he wanted to be. He thought the military would be the best opportunity he would get to travel and see the world,” she said.

Cody Gammon will miss Christmas with his family, as well as this 26th birthday, coming up on Saturday, and his first wedding anniversary in February.

Family and friends followed the USS Cole to the end of the pier as the ship left the base around 10 a.m. Sailors, dressed in their Service Dress Blue uniforms, stood surrounding the edge of the ship.

“I’m very proud,” said Third-Class Petty Officer Jarvis Johnson. “It’s a small percent of us that do this.”

Mayfield can be reached at adrienne.m@southsidedaily.com.

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Adrienne Mayfield is an award-winning, multi-media journalist hailing from Clermont, Fla. She moved to Lynchburg, Va. on a whim when she was 19, and worked her way to Hampton Roads in 2013. Adrienne is passionate about telling people stories via covering public safety and the judicial system. She isn’t afraid to take a heads-on approach to covering crime, including knocking on doors to get the details police aren’t sharing. Adrienne is a 2014 Old Dominion University graduate who still lives within walking distance of the college. You may see her cruising around Downtown Norfolk on her bike, enjoying a sandwich from Grilled Cheese Bistro or playing fetch with her dog, Greta, at the Colonial Place dog park.