5th FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY --
While many Americans are celebrating Independence Day with barbeques and fireworks stateside, the 2,300 Marines and Sailors of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit are squeezing small celebrations at sea and ashore while deployed in the Middle East.
At Camp Buehring, Kuwait, an expeditionary base where many Marines from the 24th MEU are currently conducting training exercises, they celebrated Independence Day with various athletic and competitive events to reinforce unit cohesion.
The one-day holiday break in training allowed the Marines an opportunity to celebrate and rejuvenate before returning to drills and exercises in the heat of the Kuwaiti desert.
The Marines and Sailors with Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, kicked their day off with a friendly warrior competition field meet. They competed in a relay race, plank and kettle bell tosses, and a tug-a-war.
“This allows them to blow off some steam with some good healthy fun,” said Sgt. Maj. Joel Collins, BLT sergeant major.
The field event fostered teamwork as well as healthy competition, said Collins. Every Marine and Sailor played hard, but it was Headquarters and Service Company who walked away with the trophy, a “battle mace” crafted by fellow Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 24, 24th MEU.
“Whether you’re sending rounds down range, clearing rooms, or pushing support to the companies, that’s what we do. You work hard, you train hard,” said Collins during a speech to the Marines.
The BLT Marines weren’t the only group to celebrate the holiday with some physical activity. Marines from the 24th MEU’s intelligence section participated in a Camp Buehring 5K race with service members from all branches.
“I’ll take any opportunity I can to better myself,” said Cpl. Benjamin Garduno, who ran the race for fun with fellow Marines from his intelligence section. “While we could have slept in a little this morning, we went out and ran. It’s just about getting out and doing it.”
Meanwhile, in the middle of the Arabian Sea, 24th MEU Marines and Sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima kicked off the day with an early morning 5k run on the flight deck at 5:30 a.m.
Throughout the day, the ship held a number of events in an effort to give the troops a feeling of being back home and celebrate their service during this meaningful day.
“It was nice to take a break and just think about why we do what we do,” said Sgt. Timothy Wilson, a Mansfield, Ark., native and tank mechanic assigned to CLB 24, 24th MEU.
Pie eating contests and karaoke in the ship’s hangar bay provided some welcome entertainment with songs ranging from country and classic rock to R&B and Hip Hop.
For dinner, the standard July Fourth fare could be found in the mess hall with burgers, hot dogs and barbecued chicken with a celebration cake and ice cream for dessert. And while none of it was actually barbecued over a charcoal or propane grill, it still hit the mark for the service members as they start their fourth month deployed from home.
“The food was a taste of home, and it was nice to see the officers serving food and doing the work in the mess hall,” said Wilson.
Many Marines and Sailors took this chance to reflect on why they serve and think about the importance of the date.
“I’m glad I got to celebrate this holiday while we’re deployed,” said Lance Cpl. Alex Britzman, a Lebanon, Miss., native and weapons technician with Headquarters and Service Company, BLT 1/2. “We’re celebrating while participating in the defending freedom and serving our country.”