CAMP FUJI, Japan — U.S. Marines and sailors in Scottish kilts?
Welcome to the inaugural Camp Fuji Highland Games, an event steeped in Gaelic traditions that featured a 35-pound hammer throw, a caber toss using a 100-pound tree trunk and “kilted” mile relay. And ye cannah leave out the “putting the stone” contest — similar to the shot put but carried out with a 22-pound rock from Scotland — and a “weight for height” showdown in which competitors had to heave a 46-pound mace-like object over a bar several feet above their heads.
With bagpipes playing all day in the background, Fuji units also locked up Friday in soccer, wrestling and a tug-of-war.
Even the weather was Scottish — cool and windy, with gray clouds offering only an occasional glimpse of majestic Mount Fuji, still capped with snow.
“They asked for volunteers. I was like, ‘Highland Games? What is that?’” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathon Giittinger of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4, a Port Hueneme, Calif.-based unit that’s wrapping up a six-month deployment to Camp Fuji. “Figured I’d go out there and get it done.
“We had a few practice sessions, but this is my first time. I thought it would be like the strongman competitions. But this is a little different. It’s not all strength. There’s technique to this stuff.”
Col. J.J. Tabak, Camp Fuji’s commander, came up with the idea to stage the games, according to Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Royall, the senior medical department representative at the base health clinic, who was a key organizer along with Marine Corps Community Services.
“The Scottish started it as a way to get everybody in the community involved,” said Royall, who’s competed in Scottish Highland sports before. “For Marines new to Japan and maybe away from the States for the first time, this opens up their eyes to a lot more than Camp Fuji.”
The Marines and sailors even talked a little smack in the days leading up to the games, Royall said.
“Marines are competitive and aggressive by nature,” he said. “Everybody was talking back and forth to each other. But they’re having fun wearing the kilts and learning about the traditions of Scotland. It’s a good time out here.”
Maj. Darin Morris, Camp Fuji’s executive officer, said organizers might expand the Highland Games next year to include other U.S. bases on the Kanto Plain. A contingent from Itazuma Garrison, a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force installation next to Fuji, took part in soccer, wrestling and the kilted run Friday morning.
The Japan Scottish Highland Games Society, which will hold its games this fall in Tokyo, provided Camp Fuji with the proper equipment for Friday’s event, Royall said.
Lance Cpl. Aaron Burton of Headquarters Battalion Camp Fuji is among a handful of Marines who can clear 13 feet in the “weight for height” event.
“It was kinda difficult to get involved in something Scottish because I’ve got an Irish name,” he quipped. “The tosses are difficult and pretty tough, but it’s a blast.”