Good morning, ladies and gentlemen: Yesterday afternoon around 15:10, some of you may have seen me standing in front of my office with a female Navy Petty Officer 1st Class. She was wearing her dungaree uniform. She was shaking, she was crying, and it was obvious that she was in severe emotional pain. You may have seen me hug her, you may have seen us talk for about four minutes until she turned and left the building. Four minutes is not very long, but those were four of the most eye-opening minutes I have ever experienced as a U.S. Marine.

The Petty Officer entered the front hatch of MATSG-33 looking confused and distraught. Thinking she was just another sailor looking for directions somewhere aboard NAS Oceana, I walked out of my office and greeted her and asked if I could help her. The name on her shirt said "Stewart". PO1 Stewart remained silent and stationary, staring blankly at the deck. I asked her if everything was okay. Her hands started shaking and her botton lip started to quiver as tears started streaming down her face. She just stood there, clutching her cover tightly in both hands as she cried silently for about twenty seconds before she could manage to get a word out. I was feeling helpless at this point because I had no idea what to say to her without knowing what was wrong. After she told me, I still had no idea what to say. I was just proud to be a Marine.

Through choked-back tears, PO1 Stewart told me why she came to MATSG-33. She said she was talking with four of her closest friends one day while they were on ship last October. Their ship was the USS Cole. She said that it all happened so quickly. One moment they were talking as usual and the next moment, all four of her friends were lying beside her, and she was the only one alive. PO1 Stewart said the real terror sunk in moments after the explosion, after she saw the dead, soot covered bodies of her friends, when she realized that at any moment, another explosion may take the lives of more of her shipmates or her own. She said she was so afraid that the terrorists weren't finished with them yet. Then she saw the Marines. The Marines came and secured the area. The Marines came and secured the survivors. PO1 Stewart said that she knew, and everyone on the USS Cole knew, that the terrorists had got their one deadly shot in, but no more lives would be lost that day while the Marines were there.

I know that it was one of the FAST companies that responded that day. PO1 Stewart only knows that it was the Marines. I used to be an infantryman and part of the Marine Security Force, but that was five years ago. I have never set foot on the USS Cole or patrolled its surrounding waters. The day the USS Cole was bombed, I was sitting at a desk doing paperwork on a quiet Navy Base in Virginia Beach. Yet on an ordinary summer day, a Navy Petty Officer 1st Class who felt the explosion of the USS Cole and saw her shipmates die before her, walked into Marine Aviation Training Support Group-33 to find any Marine who she could look in the face and say thank you.

I was choked up and absolutely stunned by what I had just heard. I hugged PO1 Stewart and I offered to contact the FAST companies to locate the Marines who responded that day, but she told me that she was retiring this week and this was closure for her. By saying thank you to a Marine, she is ready to try and move on from her nightmare. I told her that I would extend her thanks. PO1 Stewart said thank you once more, turned and walked out of MATSG-33. I sat back down in the chair of my quiet office and continued my paperwork - with a much better view of the big picture.

From PO1 Stewart, formerly of the USS Cole, Thank you, Marines.

Semper Fi!