Marines celebrate corps birthday while advising Iraqis in Mosul fight
November 11, 2016
QAYARA AIRFIELD WEST, Iraq — The Marine Corps celebrates its birthday every November by passing on hard-won experience in the ceremonial sharing of cake from the oldest Marine to the youngest. It’s part of a tradition that recalls past victories and a history of military successes.
For the Marines deployed to Qayara Airfield West outside Mosul, who celebrated the 241st anniversary of the service’s founding on Thursday, the tradition also echoed their duties as advisers helping the Iraqi army to expel the Islamic State group from their country.
The setting — a tent around a large table covered with a camouflage poncho — was relatively austere in comparison to birthday balls held elsewhere in the world.
Lavish stateside celebrations are more fun, said Maj. Ryan Hunt, leader of the Twentynine Palms, California-based “Blade Runner” team, made up of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment Marines, which he said deployed “from a desert to a desert.” At home, they often attend birthday balls hosted in Las Vegas.
Members of the Marine Corps Reserve’s 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company out of West Palm Beach, Fla., who are advising the Iraqis in fire support, were also present, together with a Navy Corpsman, three Marine veterans and guests from other services.
Hunt spoke of galas during which Marines can enjoy a real beer instead of the nonalcoholic kind on hand at the Iraqi airfield.
But, he said, a stripped-down affair in a harsh, deployed environment is more memorable because it’s closer to what Marines “were made to do.”
“The purpose of our being is to deploy,” he said.
In his first of four deployed birthdays, as a 2nd lieutenant in 2004, he read Gen. John A. Lejeune’s 1921 birthday message to his Marines while taking cover on a rooftop in Fallujah after they had come under fire, he said. He has also celebrated while on ship and while training and advising security forces in Afghanistan.
For the oldest Marine present, Master Sgt. Matthew Holly, 43, of the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command, the celebration was his third on a combat deployment.
“The message is always the same,” he said. “We’re paying homage to our past.”
After taking a bite of the first slice of birthday carrot cake, Holly passed it to Lance Cpl. D’Armani Parks, 21, the youngest Marine present. It’s a symbol of handing down history and traditions to the future generation of Marine leaders.
“It’s good to know who came before you and to celebrate their triumphs,” said Parks, who was marking his first deployed birthday celebration.
The advisers here, part of U.S. Central Command’s Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force, remain miles from the battlefield.
“In this case ... our Iraqi brothers are the ones that are taking the fight to the enemy,” Hunt said. “With some hopefully good guidance from us.”