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Pembroke sailor helps capture pirates

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POSTED: May 11, 2010 10:02 a.m.
Navy photo by PO 2nd Class Jason Zalasky/

Visit, board, search and seizure team members from the USS Ashland pull suspected pirates from the sea to be brought to the ship USS Ashland.

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On April 10, the United States Navy landing dock ship USS Ashland was on patrol in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Djibouti when it came under attack from a group of Somali pirates.
That wasn’t a good move.
Here’s what happened next, according to the Navy:
”During the attack, Ashland received small arms fire on the port side from the six man crew of suspected pirates aboard the skiff. Ashland, in accordance with her rules of engagement, returned fire.
“USS Ashland fired two rounds at the skiff from her MK-38 Mod 2, 25mm gun. The skiff caught fire and the suspected pirates abandoned the skiff. Ashland deployed her rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) to assist the pirates who were in the water near their skiff.
“Once it was verified that the suspected pirates no longer had weapons on their person, all six were brought on board Ashland where they received medical care. There is no apparent damage to USS Ashland, and there were no injuries to any members of her crew.
Capt. John Bruening, commanding officer, Nassau Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), expressed the commitment of the ships in the Nassau ARG to ensuring the success of creating a stable and secure maritime environment.
“This is why we are here,” said Bruening. “It is so much more than just putting a stop to the illegal activities of only one pirate skiff. It is about fostering an environment that will give every nation the freedom to navigate the seas without fear of attack.”
The person who pulled the trigger was Pembroke native Justin Myers.  
Attempts to conduct a phone interview were unsuccessful, but we were able to send Gunners Mate 3rd Class Myers a list of questions. Here are his responses

Plese tell readers a little about your background.
I attended Bryan County High and played baseball in spring ‘05 under Al Butler. I was awarded the Albert Lodge Award that season. I left Bryan County High and attended Ogeechee Technical College. I joined and signed my contract for the Navy in July 2006. I graduated gunner’s mate “A” school in July 2007. From there, I reported to the USS Ashland (LSD-48). I married my wife, Elise, Nov. 17, 2007. I had my daughter, Jaden, June 18, 2009. Since being onboard the Ashland, I have received two Navy Achievement Medals, National Defense Medal, Global War on Terrorism-Service, Global War on Terrorism-Expeditionary, Armed Forces Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, two Sea Service Deployment Ribbons, Navy Expert Rifle Medal, and Navy Expert Pistol Medal. I was selected as the 2009 USS Ashland (LSD-48) Junior Sailor of the Year.

How long have you been serving in the Gulf of Aden?
We have been serving in the Gulf of Aden (in the Arabian Sea between Yemen on the south coast of the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia in the Horn of Africa) for about 2 months.

What are your day-to-day duties like?
Everyday, I maintain 127 small arm weapon, including .50 caliber and M240 machine guns, M14 Battle Rifle, M16 and M4 Assault Rifles, M203 grenade launchers, M500 Tactical Riot Shotgun and M9 Service Pistol. I train the ship’s crew in the areas of armed watch-standing, marksmanship, force protection, and physical security. I am also on the visit, board, search and seizure team where we conduct Maritime Security Operations. I handle the ammunition on board and take care of the magazines (large storage spaces) and the emergency sprinkler systems for the magazines.

Describe the day in which you helped capture the pirates.
It was another 0200-0700 watch night – relaxed, doing whatever you can to keep yourself up and focused. Coffee works wonders! At about 0500 a contact report was radioed to the bridge from the aft-lookout, we were unable to see the contact from the pilot house. Soon after, we heard what sounded to be like small arms fire. I went out to check the bridge wing, which is close to my watch station, and I saw the suspected pirate skiff coming up the port side of our ship around 75 yard or so. I went back to my MK 38 Mod 2 25MM machine gun and acquired the skiff in my sights. I saw the muzzle flash and heard more shots fired. I asked for batteries release to engage the threat. Upon getting permission to fire, I fired two rounds in the skiff. The skiff ignited and I ceased fired, as the threat had been neutralized. From there, I was relieved from my watch post to go out with the VBSS team and recover the suspects. I held security on the SP’s (suspected pirates) as I called them to swim toward the boat we were on, one at a time. My teammates pulled the suspects in and detained them. We brought them back to the ship once they were all recovered and our hospital corpsman rendered first aid on the suspects.

How did you feel during the incident?

I was extremely calm. I was not in a position where I can lose my cool. If anyone is to be composed, it has to be the gunner. I have been training for three years to defend my ship. I reacted the same way I had played it out mentally (during training) if it were to ever happen to us. Everything came instinctually – very smooth and deliberate. I am responsible for over 700 sailors and Marines while I am on watch, and I refuse to be the reason anyone is injured or killed. I am very glad we did not suffer any casualties.
The skiff catching fire is very memorable. Hearing the 25MM shoot when I needed her most sticks out, as well. The long hours of maintenance on my 25MM definitely paid off. I was very satisfied in her performance.

Was it the first time you shot at a live target?

Yes, it was the first time I have shot at an actual threat and received small arms fire in the Navy.

What’s your impression of the pirates?

We cannot assume why the pirates chose to attack the ship, although the low visibility that early in the morning could very well have played a factor. The pirates were Somalian. They are currently awaiting trial in Virginia.

What are your plans?

I plan on re-enlisting on my daughter’s birthday. I am awaiting the results of the E-5 advancements right now and I am hoping to re-enlist as gunner’s mate petty officer second class (E-5). I am scheduled to transfer in January. I am not sure of where I am going as of right now, but I will hopefully find out within the next month or so. I am trying to go to the Expeditionary Warfare community.
 

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