Director Follows Antiterrorism Path Set by Cole Attack
By Paul Taylor
Pentagon Force Protection Agency
WASHINGTON, April 27, 2011 On Oct. 12, 2000, terrorists attacked the U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 sailors.
Jim Pelkofski, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency’s director of antiterrorism and force protection, said the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole was a “wake-up call” he’s been working to answer ever since. DOD photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Jim Pelkofski, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency’s director of antiterrorism and force protection, said the attack on Cole was a seminal event, both for the Navy and for him.
“Cole was really the wake-up call for the Navy,” he said. “I think that’s when commanders in the Navy really started taking [antiterrorism and force protection] seriously.”
For Pelkofski, the timing of the attack was portentous. He was on active duty in the Navy and in the training pipeline preparing to take command of his own destroyer, USS Deyo.
“Even though the Navy hadn’t yet formally adopted [antiterrorism and force protection] as a mission area, when I went to Deyo I said, ‘This is one of our mission areas.’ So we set out to make as hard a target of ourselves, both in port and underway, as we possibly could,” he said.
After his command tour, Pelkofski’s next assignment was a full immersion into the antiterrorism and force protection world. He served as the antiterrorism operations plans and policy officer on U.S. Fleet Forces Command staff. After a final tour in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Pelkofski retired from the Navy as a captain, completing more than 25 years of service.
Although he retired from the Navy, Pelkofski said, he remained committed to serving his country. In November 2009, he saw the job announcement for his present position.
“I read the announcement and it was kind of like lights went off: ‘I’ve done this job before at Fleet Forces Command –- I’m perfect for this!’” he said. “I applied and went through the interview process, and fortunately, everyone else up to [Steven E. Calvery, Pentagon Force Protection Agency director] felt the same, and here I am.
“I wanted to stay in the fight,” he added, “so this is perfect for me, and I’m really proud to be here.”
Back in his Navy days after taking command of Deyo, with memories of the Cole attack fresh in their minds, Pelkofski and his crew made their deployment motto: “Shoot to Kill.”
“We had this aggressive mind set, and I think it played out throughout the deployment,” he said. “And it’s sort of my personal approach to life, and I bring that philosophy here.”
In a 2004 article he wrote for the U.S. Naval Institute’s magazine Proceedings, he said the greatest deterrent to an al-Qaida operation is a defense poised to shoot early -- and shoot to kill -- in the event of an attack.
“Terrorists who are willing to die for their cause are deterred only by [the prospect of] certain failure in the execution of their operation,” he wrote.
Although antiterrorism and force protection is a relatively new mission area for the military, it is one Pelkofski has been a part of from the beginning, and the danger to the nation posed by terrorism is not lost on him.
“We face an adversary that is truly out to destroy our way of life,” he said. “And they’re interested in attacking symbols, and there is no greater symbol of U.S. power than the Pentagon. There’s no doubt in my mind that the enemy has its sights on the Pentagon. They did, they do, and they always will.”