Standing united 11 years on

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Michelle Rayner (author)

Topic(s): Operation MANITOU

Commanding Officer USS Firebolt Lieutenant-Commander Mitch McGuffie (left) briefs Royal Australian Navy personnel on his ship’s capabilities. Petty Officer Jimmy Galletly; Commander Marcus Buttler; Leading Seaman Andy Saccoia; Lieutenant-Commander Peter Barnes; and Petty officer Steven Schonrock. (photo: UNKNOWN)
Commanding Officer USS Firebolt Lieutenant-Commander Mitch McGuffie (left) briefs Royal Australian Navy personnel on his ship’s capabilities. Petty Officer Jimmy Galletly; Commander Marcus Buttler; Leading Seaman Andy Saccoia; Lieutenant-Commander Peter Barnes; and Petty officer Steven Schonrock.

During their Operation MANITOU deployment, personnel from Maritime Operations Support Group and Combined Task Force 150 visited the US Navy Patrol Craft USS Firebolt for a tour. 

This was particularly significant for two Royal Australian Navy personnel who were on board HMAS Stuart 11 years ago when they jointly patrolled with USS Firebolt in the North Arabian Gulf. 

On 24 April 2004, three personnel from Firebolt were killed and four were seriously wounded when the dhow they were investigating blew up as part of a coordinated attack on the Iraqi oil terminals. 

Stuart was immediately on the scene  providing helicopter and medical support to the crew. 

Chief Petty Officer Maritime Logistics - Supply Chain Mick Giddens recalls providing medical assistance within messes onboard Stuart in the chaos that ensued. 

Touring the ship and seeing the memorials was a stark reminder of  the incident for both Chief Petty Officer Giddens and Petty Officer Communication and Information Systems Jimmy Galletly.

“Back in 2004, it was difficult to grasp the significance of the incident and the legacy that would still exist 11 years later,” Petty Officer Galletly said. 

“Having the chance to visit Firebolt and view the memorials on board was a sombre reminder of three US servicemen that gave their lives in the international campaign against terrorism 

“Being able to read the letter sent from Commanding Officer Stuart to Commanding Officer Firebolt rekindled the feeling of camaraderie the two ships held during their time patrolling together in the North Arabian Gulf. 

“I feel honoured to have been able to tour the ship Stuart shares a unique bond with.”

Commanding Officer Firebolt Lieutenant Commander Mitch McGuffie said the ship’s company were reminded daily of the close bond shared with the Australian Navy. 

“The framed, two-page handwritten letter by Commander Philip Spedding hangs in our main passageway,” Lieutenant Commander McGuffie said.

“The letter, dated 27 April 2004, eloquently highlights the fact Australians and Americans have fought side-by-side in every major conflict since the First World War. 

“He writes in his concluding sentence, ‘America has no more loyal friend than Australia, and my team in Stuart will await your return to the Northern Arabian Gulf so that we can fight side-by-side again.’

“Although 11 years have passed since the incident, Commander Spedding’s letter is just as reassuring today. 

“Proudly hanging in our passageway is also a photo of Stuart signed by the entire ship’s company signifying their support following the events that transpired in April 2004. The poster reads, ‘To our mates in USS Firebolt – United We Stand.’ 

“It is always a touching moment to have a visitor on board who can locate their signature.”