SEAL = Sleep, Eat, and Lift.

Here we were, stuck on the boat but anxiously awaiting our turn to jump into the ship take-downs happening with our fellow SEAL Team 3 mates up in the northern part of the Arabian Gulf. Meanwhile, we were like street rats trapped in a rusty steel cage with a running wheel. That wheel for us was the guy.

Prior to hitting the Gulf, we steamed southwest across the Pacific, with a few brief stops along the way at various exotic locations, until we reached the port town of Darwin, Australia, where we spent a week doing the things SEALs do to keep themselves occupied: joint training exercises with the Aussies, working out, and blowing off steam when we could. From there it was a quick hop north to war-torn East Timor, which had recently fought for its hard-won independence from Indonesia and was still in shambles. A team of our guys went ashore for a few days to help in some humanitarian efforts there. And that was about as exciting as things got in those days. It was a time of unprecedented prosperity and stability, both in the States and in the world at large. To put it in SEAL terms, a pretty boring world.

That was about to change.

From East Timor we sailed westward through a series of stepping-stone stops — Singapore and Phuket, Thailand — until we finally arrived in mid-October at the Persian Gulf, where we planned to spend a few days engaged in ship-boarding exercises. It was October 12, a quiet Thursday morning right about lunchtime, when Jim McNary, our officer in charge (OIC), suddenly showed up in our berthing area with some unexpected and sobering news. One of our destroyers, the USS Cole, had been hit and was in danger of sinking.

“Holy shit,” we all thought.

Shortly after 11 o’clock that morning, a small powerboat just off the coast of nearby Yemen, loaded with a quarter ton of homemade explosives and manned by a total of two, as yet unidentified assailants, had sidled up to the ship on its port side and detonated, blowing a 40-by-40-foot hole in the Cole’s hull.

Two guys in a little speedboat did this?