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A look back at the attack on the USS Cole

  • Published
  • Air Force Medical Service History Office
On the morning of October 12, 2000, the USS Cole, a guided-missile destroyer, docked at the Port of Aden off the coast of Yemen for refueling. In a small boat, a suicide bomber approached the destroyer, detonated alongside, which left a 40 to 60-foot hold on the port side of the ship. The blast killed 17 and injured 39 Sailors.

In response, French medics in Djibouti, along with a C-130 Aeromedical Evacuation crew from Prince Sultan Air Base, aided the critically injured Sailors. As worldwide reports of the USS Cole attack unfolded, across the world at Ramstein Air Base, two C-9A Nightingale missions, consisting of 28 Aeromedical Evacuation crew members and seven CCATT members launched to Aden and Djibouti.

Over a 36 hour, 6,000 mile round-trip mission, the medical crew teams returned with the 39 injured Sailors. The National Aeronautic Association awarded the MacKay Trophy for “the most meritorious flight of the year” to both the air and medical crews.

The trophy, on display at the National Air Space Museum in Washington, D.C., was the first for medical flyers since its inception in 1912. Among the MacKay Trophy recipients was Colonel Byron Hepburn, who would become Major General Hepburn, Deputy Surgeon General of the Air Force Medical Service.

Editor's note: Information for this article was adapted from portions of "100 Years of Excellence: The History of the Air Force Medical Service."