Navy Destroyer Crew Receives Combat Award for Shooting Down Drones as Houthi Attacks Intensify in Red Sea

Vice Adm. Brad Cooper presents a combat medal to a USS Carney sailor
Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. 5th Fleet, presents a combat medal to a sailor assigned to the USS Carney while the ship was in Bahrain, Jan. 2, 2024. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob Vernier)

The destroyer USS Carney has been awarded a combat award, and several sailors received medals following its actions in shooting down drones and missiles that were apparently aimed at merchant shipping in the Red Sea, the Navy announced Tuesday.

Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the commander of the Navy's forces in the Middle East, visited the ship and presented five awards to sailors, including its commander, and "he also recognized the whole crew with the Combat Action Ribbon" for their actions on Dec. 16 when the ship shot down 14 Houthi drones in the Red Sea, a Navy post on social media said.

The awards are the second time in less than a month that the crew of the Carney, which has participated in multiple engagements with drones and missiles in the area, has been visited by military leaders and presented with medals. However, the accolades also raise new questions about whether U.S. forces are actively being targeted in the region.

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According to a Navy spokesman, Cooper awarded two Navy Commendation Medals -- including one to the ship's commander, Cmdr. Jeremy Robertson -- and three Navy Achievement Medals.

The Navy did not immediately offer details on who the sailors outside of Robertson were and was not able to immediately provide a citation for the Combat Action Ribbon award.

The last time a Navy crew received the combat award was in 2017 when the destroyers USS Mason and USS Nitze, as well as the amphibious transport docks USS Ponce and USS San Antonio, received the ribbon after also fending off Houthi missile attacks, according to Navy Times.

However, the award also raises questions about the broader narrative being presented by Pentagon officials about what is actually going on in the Red Sea since the incidents first began in mid-October.

The Navy's criteria for the award says that a sailor "must have rendered satisfactory performance under enemy fire while actively participating in a ground or surface combat engagement" to be eligible. However, Navy and Pentagon officials have regularly told reporters and made statements that indicated U.S. ships were not being targeted.

Despite the military's categorization of the Houthis as a U.S. "enemy," the Biden administration removed the group from its list of foreign terrorist organizations in early 2021.

On Dec. 11, Gen. Michael Kurilla, the commander of U.S. Central Command, flew out to the Carney to also present awards to many of the sailors aboard the ship for their actions in that first incident -- when the ship downed four missiles and 15 drones -- on Oct. 19.

A Navy spokesman said "the team defended the ship and their shipmates from a complex air attack, manifested in the form of multiple hostile air threats traversing the Red Sea, spanning a three-hour interception engagement."

However, at the time, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon's top spokesman, told reporters that the missiles were targeting Israel, not the Carney. Ryder explained the belief that the missiles were targeting Israel was based largely on the direction of the missiles' flight.

Kurilla gave 20 sailors awards for their actions and presented Robertson with a Bronze Star, a Navy spokesman told in a statement Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Navy ships have continued to engage with Houthi forces in the Red Sea, and tensions appeared to be escalating. The Pentagon said that in one month, the Houthis launched more than 100 drone and ballistic missile attacks, targeting 10 merchant vessels involving more than 35 different nations.

On Sunday, US Central Command said that Navy helicopters were responding to a distress call from a merchant ship when Houthi small boats opened fire, prompting the aircraft to return fire. The helicopters sank three of the four small boats, killing the crews.

Related: Massive One-Day Barrage of Houthi Attacks on Shipping Fended Off by Navy Destroyer, Fighter

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