Cole's legacy: a different U.S. Navy

and body parts scattered about the torn metal, and groups of recruits are sent down with stretchers to look for those who can be “saved,” triage them and, if savable, carry them via stretcher back to a battle dressing station. The dummies make noise via built-in MP3 players, and trainers employ other special effects and lighting.

“We drive home to the recruits that the things they’re learning here at boot camp, they need to take them to heart,” said Chief Gas Turbine Systems Technician (Mechanical) (SW/AW) Karl Hacker, Battle Stations operations chief. The scenarios, he said, “all really happened in naval history. Real sailors lost their lives. We want to prepare them … so if this happens to them out in the fleet, it won’t be the first time they’ve seen it.”

The Cole simulator was launched in 2007, but Battle Stations began 10 years earlier. The former executive officer of the Cole, now-Capt. Chris Peterschmidt, said younger sailors on the Cole performed “phenomenally well” after the attack. When interviewed afterward, the sailors told officials, “We saw this before” — referring to their more-intense basic training.

The new training center, Peterschmidt said, is the “crown jewel” of Navy damage control training.

“In a way, every sailor coming into the Navy walks a little bit in the shoes of the sailors of the Cole,” said Peterschmidt, now the operations officer for 3rd Fleet, who visited the mock-up in May. “Unfortunately, they only go through it once. They never go back to it again, and there’s nothing like it, comparably, in any of the fleet concentration areas.”

That training in damage control and mass-casualty response, as well as in other vital areas, gets reinforced out in the fleet by the afloat training groups — although one retired skipper said the philosophy of training the trainer neglects vital team-building. Retired Cmdr. Bryan McGrath, who commanded the destroyer Bulkeley from 2004 to 2006, maintains that the “dirty little secret” of this approach is that the trainers are a ship’s very best watchstanders.

“For a good portion of the time … they train your more junior people,” McGrath said. “Your absolute varsity, your very best people, almost never get trained operating as a unit, together. Your junior people definitely become better trained. Your No. 1 [group] never drills together, and never gets drilled. Because who do you use to evaluate them? Your second team?”

ATG damage control training, he said, “was satisfactory, it was good. They concentrated on the right things, the basics. I never felt like I could have enough of it. But it was probably among some of the better training that I thought ATG gave.”

Equipment and gear changes, many quite small, were prompted by the Cole attack. Every surface warship and command ship now carries a “Cole Lessons Learned Kit,” with items that came as a pleasant surprise to Peterschmidt when, in 2006, he took command of the destroyer Pinckney in San Diego.

“I noticed right away— oh, they fixed that!” Peterschmidt said, noting fixes as simple as adding fluorescent markings in the escape trunks to more accurately assess dewatering efforts in a darkened space.