USS ASHLAND, At Sea --
The fragrance of smoked barbeque and the sound of music and laughter fills the air aboard USS Ashland as Marines and Sailors of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Nassau Amphibious Ready Group partake in the first USS Ashland Steel Beach Barbeque March 7.
The event was organized by the USS Ashland Petty Officer 1st Class Association and staff sergeants of the 24th MEU and was authorized by senior commanders to reward the Marines and Sailors for their hard work and to have a “get away” of sorts while already away from home on a 7-month deployment.
The crew has long waited for a time to rest and unwind from the constant grind of training, and monotony of ship life, they’ve experienced since the start of their voyage nearly two months ago. After supporting earthquake relief efforts for Operation Unified Response in Haiti they immediately headed east on the trans-Atlantic voyage to make a tight timeline to rotate with another MEU as the theater reserve for Central Command.
This rush across the high seas and commitments to training exercises cost the 24th MEU and NASARG their previously planned port stops in the Mediterranean.
“It feels great to come out of the field, eating Meals Ready-to-Eat yesterday and have a genuine barbeque today,” said Cpl. Christian AldanaChavez, amphibious assault vehicle mechanic, 2nd Amphibious Assault platoon, Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU. “It’s nice to have time to relax and regain our composure for the training and work load that’s planned for the next couple of months.”
Marines and Sailors worked together to setup a large barbeque grill on the ship’s deck to cook classic barbeque items like ribs and baked beans, with cookies baked in the ship’s kitchen for dessert. A lounge area complete with music brought all the servicemembers together outside their usual workplaces and helped fuel inter-service friendships between servicemembers that might not have ever met otherwise.
“It was cool to hang with the Navy in a common area and talk about things aside from work. Everyone lightened up while being ourselves, and enjoyed the party,” said Lance Cpl. Daniel Jones, a rifleman with 2nd platoon, Alpha Co.
Even those who actually had to work at the event found it enjoyable when compared to their normal working conditions.
“This event was a great task to give to the (mess) crew and a great way to give them a day off from working inside the kitchen,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Mohammed, lead event coordinator, USS Ashland, Nassau Amphibious Ready Group. “The timing couldn’t have been better to do this event considering all the hard work everyone has done on this ship.”
Senior ranking personnel, like the staff non-commissioned officers and officers, took the time to wind down and enjoy the open air while accommodating and serving their junior enlisted warriors.
“We’ll try anything for our Marines’ (and shipmates’) morale - serving real food and enjoying the outdoors without wearing the regular uniform is great,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph A. Benton, platoon sergeant, 1st platoon, Alpha Co., BLT 1/9, 24th MEU. “I’m living the dream while working the grill, preparing food all morning for our guys, and seeing how much everyone’s spirits has been lifted.”
The barbeque was an overall success with plans already being made for the Steel Beach party to take place at least once a month for the remainder of the deployment, said Mohammed.
“This barbeque has been great and should be done as often as possible to keep everyone enthused and optimistic, because if you look around here it is nothing but smiles and laughter coming from privates to (senior) staff,” said Cpl. Ramon Howard, assistant section leader, 2nd AAV platoon, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU.