View Full Version : Fighting country's battles in air, land, sea

02-13-09, 08:30 AM
Fighting country's battles in air, land, sea
'Soldiers of the sea' get grasp on their amphibious roots
Lance Cpl. Michael A. Bianco

ABOARD USS ESSEX (February 13, 2009) -- Walking down the half-mile long pier carrying a strenuous combat load, a young Marine tries to contain his excitement before embarking on a new adventure in his life.

He proceeds up a steep ramp to the stern-gate platform and requests permission to board the massive amphibious assault ship, USS Essex.

He lugs his pack through the narrow corridors to a living areas stacked tight with bunks just large enough to squeeze into sideways.

But the Marine stays positive through it all and quickly adapts to a shipboard routine.

"It's better than everyone made it out to be," said Pfc. Colton Ferrier, an administrative clerk with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. "The worst parts [about ship life] are just the sway of the ship, long chow lines and tight quarters, but you get used to it after awhile."

Another Marine, a combat veteran, arrived at the ship in a crowded bus.

Before coming aboard, he contemplated how his past deployment to the Middle East would compare to his new salty predicament.

He figures, at least while at sea, stress will not come from facing down the enemy, but from superiors making sure the Marines continue to train hard in the constricted ship environment.

"We already have our combat time," said Lance Cpl. Jorge Barba, an infantryman with Company K, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. "Now we have the opportunity to take advantage of the missions and challenges unique to being a Marine at sea."

A third Marine, older than the previous two, approached the ship. Gazing up, he reminisced on past memories of sand and sea.

He thought of his most recent deployment to the Middle East and the drastic mission change represented by the ship floating in front of him.

"This is a great opportunity for my Marines to become a part of (U.S.) humanitarian acts in other countries," said Staff Sgt. Soulinha Chanthavong, an infantry platoon sergeant for second platoon, Company K.

Most of the Marines in the unit view this experience as a great way to improve as a person and as a Marine, he said.

"This isn't a combat zone, so being shot at by the enemy is not the main concern," said infantryman Cpl. Jesse T. Shutter. "We have the opportunity to focus on other things such as MCIs (Marine Corp Institutes), college courses, staying fit by taking advantage of the gym on board and just squaring ourselves away in general."

Although there may be times on ship that seem like "Groundhog Day," seeing and living in close proximity to fellow service members can help build strong bonds between units. Recently service members aboard USS Essex came together to watch Super Bowl XLIII.

"Events like this are great for morale," said Sgt. Joe T. Hedge, a motor transport operator with the battalion. It allows us to take the chevrons off, come together, dig into one another and cheer for our team."

Many of the Marines realize their role as a force in readiness with the 31st MEU could put them in harms way at any time. However, they also look forward to the possibility of participating in the non-combat and humanitarian missions the Navy and Marine Corps team is known for.

These operations include providing food and shelter to people displaced due to conflicts or natural disasters, non-combatant evacuation operations and providing medical support in ravaged or war-torn regions.

"We realize combat is only one of the many aspects that make the Corps what it is," Decker said. "Being a part of a unit deployed on ship allows Marines to take advantage of the heritage and traditions of the Marine Corps."