NSA Bahrain Honors Fallen Firebolt Shipmates

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dawson Roth | April 24, 2019

NSA BAHRAIN, Bahrain --

Naval Support Activity Bahrain service members gathered for the annual Firebolt Memorial ceremony and 5K run April 24.


The ceremony and run were held to honor Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Michael J. Pernaselli, Signalman 2nd Class Christopher E. Watts and Coast Guardsman Damage Controlman 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal who died while conducting maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf on April 24, 2004, aboard the Cyclone-class coastal patrol boat USS Firebolt (PC 10).


The ceremony began with a speech by Vice Adm. Jim Malloy, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and U.S. 5th Fleet, in remembrance of the Firebolt crew and fallen service members.  


“The actions of the fallen and those of the entire Firebolt crew embody the importance of honor, courage and commitment,” said Malloy. “They remind us to stay focused on our mission, to fight complacency, and to remember there is no such thing as a routine mission.”  


Firebolt Sailors served in the ceremony’s color guard to pay tribute to the Firebolt Sailors before them.


“Serving on the Firebolt and in the Navy means I can give back to my country and become a part of the legacy that the Firebolt crew embodies,” said Quartermaster Seaman John M. McHugh Jr., a Firebolt Sailor.


The memorial honoring the legacy of these brave service members stands across from the Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) headquarters, and features the service members’ rating badges, a folded flag, and a life ring from Firebolt.


“The sacrifice made by Petty Officers Pernaselli, Watts and Bruckenthal is final,” said Malloy. “But theses heroes live on through this memorial and through the stories we tell of their bravery.”


On April 24, 2004, Firebolt was in the vicinity of the Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal in Iraq, with the mission of defending the terminal against attack. A suspicious dhow was spotted nearby, and Firebolt deployed a rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) manned by six Sailors and a U.S. Coast Guardsman to investigate the vessel. The dhow, realizing the RHIB was in pursuit, sped toward the oil terminal. The RHIB maneuvered into position to intercept the vessel, but the dhow exploded in an apparent suicide attack. Minutes later, two other dhows exploded prematurely in what was an attempted coordinated attack on Iraq’s offshore oil infrastructure. Though the crew of the RHIB had successfully protected the oil platform, the wake created by the explosions capsized the small boat, claiming the lives of Pernaselli, Watts and Bruckenthal, who were the first Coast Guardsman to die in action since the Vietnam War.


Firebolt is assigned to Task Force 55 in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. 


PATFORSWA’s mission is to command, train, equip and provide mission ready Coast Guard forces to conduct maritime security operations in U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM) area of responsibility.


U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The expanse comprises of 20 countries and includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.