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thedrifter
08-07-06, 08:09 AM
Chance to get away from it all
August 06,2006
CHRIS MAZZOLINI
DAILY NEWS STAFF

Marines can’t seem to get enough sand.

They’ve been fighting a war in the deserts of Iraq for more than three years, and battled in dusty Afghanistan since 2001. Maybe they’d be sick of it.

Or maybe not, if Saturday’s swarm of tanned, tattooed leathernecks lugging coolers and girlfriends to Onslow Beach for the annual Sand Jam is any indication. Granted, the sand of the Middle East doesn’t have a waves rolling against it, nor does it host beach volleyball competitions. Most drastically, it doesn’t have bikini-clad women.

Despite a bleak horizon painted with gray thunderheads, bright lightning strikes and threats of penny-sized hail, the Marines came, intent on a good time. Even after the beach closed for a couple hours due to ugly weather, the crowds remained.

They stayed for a day of volleyball, tug-of-war, live music and body competitions. And beer.

In other words, a time out from the daily grind of PT, combat training and the always looming shadow of war.

“It’s really nice,” said Cpl. Brad Cole, a 21-year-old Marine stationed at Lejeune who recently spent a year in Iraq with the II Marine Expeditionary Force. “You just come in, watch people play and take a dip. It’s a good time away from the barracks, I’ll put it that way.”

Cole was readying to enter the volleyball competition with some of his unit mates.

“I’m a beach bum,” he said, then inspected his own wiry frame. “I don’t think I’ve got a body for it though.”

While organized events like the volleyball, a tug-of-war battle and the annual “Flex at the Beach” body competition let relaxing warriors compete for trophies, just as many tossed footballs in the surf, ate and drank in beach chairs or swam in the ocean with their kids.

Cpl. Tim Hartman and his fiancée, Ashley Williams, sat on top of their cooler and relaxed. The couple, due to be married in a week, said they don’t get to spend too much time together during the work week.

“We saw the signs (for Sand Jam) and thought it seemed like a good time,” said Hartman, an artillery Marine with Romeo Battery, 5th Battalion, 10th Marines. “It’s a good way to relax.”

But Marines don’t like to relax too much. Hence, the tug-of-war competition pitting teams of grunting males — with a girl or two sprinkled in — as they yanked on a thick rope.

“In the Marine Corps, sometimes when we get bored, we play tug-of-war,” said Pvt. Ethan Moyer, after a losing effort behind the rope.

The team of Cpl. John Fisher, a motor-transport Marine who spent a year in Iraq, made out better and won the tug-of-war competition.

Afterward, the grinning Marine’s hands were chaffed and red, but he seemed pleased his friends dragged him to Sand Jam.

“You hang out with people, meet new people and just have a good time,” he said. “It pulls a lot of stress off your shoulders.”

Quite literally.

Contact Chris Mazzolini at cmazzolini@freedomenc.com or at 353-1171, ext. 229.

Ellie