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Maj. Ryan Hunt of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, pours a cup of sparkling wine for Spc. Jonathan Santiago of the 1st Squadron of the 75th Cavalry at a celebration of the Marine Corps' 241st birthday on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, at Qayara Airfield West, Iraq.

Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes

Maj. Ryan Hunt of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, pours a cup of sparkling wine for Spc. Jonathan Santiago of the 1st Squadron of the 75th Cavalry at a celebration of the Marine Corps' 241st birthday on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, at Qayara Airfield West, Iraq. Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Maj. Ryan Hunt of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, pours a cup of sparkling wine for Spc. Jonathan Santiago of the 1st Squadron of the 75th Cavalry at a celebration of the Marine Corps' 241st birthday on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, at Qayara Airfield West, Iraq.

Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes

Maj. Ryan Hunt of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, pours a cup of sparkling wine for Spc. Jonathan Santiago of the 1st Squadron of the 75th Cavalry at a celebration of the Marine Corps' 241st birthday on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, at Qayara Airfield West, Iraq. Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Marines and their guests at a celebration of the service's 241st birthday Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, at Qayara Airfield West, Iraq, were treated to a special dinner of steak, potatoes and broccoli, along with sparkling grape juice and ''near beer.'' Carrot cake was also served.

Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes

Marines and their guests at a celebration of the service's 241st birthday Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, at Qayara Airfield West, Iraq, were treated to a special dinner of steak, potatoes and broccoli, along with sparkling grape juice and ''near beer.'' Carrot cake was also served. Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Sgt Eric Candelaria and Staff Sgt. Joseph Beardsley, both of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, serve themselves a special Marine Corps birthday dinner of steak, potatoes and broccoli on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, at Qayyarah Airfield West, Iraq. Like Marines around the world, 14 Marines  and three Marine veterans at this base near Mosul celebrated the 241st anniversary of the service's founding in 1775.

Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes

Sgt Eric Candelaria and Staff Sgt. Joseph Beardsley, both of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, serve themselves a special Marine Corps birthday dinner of steak, potatoes and broccoli on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, at Qayyarah Airfield West, Iraq. Like Marines around the world, 14 Marines and three Marine veterans at this base near Mosul celebrated the 241st anniversary of the service's founding in 1775. Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Marines deployed to Qayara Airfield West, Iraq, celebrated the service's 241st birthday on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, with carrot cake. The austere ceremony contrasted with the often extravagant traditional Marine Corps birthday balls held throughout the globe on or about the anniversary of the branch's founding in 1775.

Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes

Marines deployed to Qayara Airfield West, Iraq, celebrated the service's 241st birthday on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, with carrot cake. The austere ceremony contrasted with the often extravagant traditional Marine Corps birthday balls held throughout the globe on or about the anniversary of the branch's founding in 1775. Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

More than a dozen Marines deployed to Qayara Airfield West, most from the ''Blade Runner'' advise and assist team of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, enjoy a special meal of steak, potatoes and broccoli in honor of the Marine Corps' birthday on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016.

Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes

More than a dozen Marines deployed to Qayara Airfield West, most from the ''Blade Runner'' advise and assist team of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, enjoy a special meal of steak, potatoes and broccoli in honor of the Marine Corps' birthday on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Maj. Ryan Hunt addresses the Marines, mostly of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, and 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, at a celebration of the service's 241st birthday at Qayara Airfield West, Iraq, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016.

Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes

Maj. Ryan Hunt addresses the Marines, mostly of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, and 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, at a celebration of the service's 241st birthday at Qayara Airfield West, Iraq, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Cpl. David Dennis reads about the significance of the passing of the cake from the oldest to the youngest Marine as part of the traditional Marine Corps birthday celebration, as Maj. Ryan Hunt cuts a slice of carrot cake on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016 at Qayara Airfield West, Iraq.

Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes

Cpl. David Dennis reads about the significance of the passing of the cake from the oldest to the youngest Marine as part of the traditional Marine Corps birthday celebration, as Maj. Ryan Hunt cuts a slice of carrot cake on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016 at Qayara Airfield West, Iraq. Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Master Sgt. Matthew Holly, 43, the oldest Marine at Qayara
Airfield West near Mosul, Iraq, takes a bite of birthday cake before passing it to the youngest Marine present, Lance Cpl. D'Armani Parks, 21, during a celebration of the Marine Corps's 241st birthday, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016.

Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes

Master Sgt. Matthew Holly, 43, the oldest Marine at Qayara Airfield West near Mosul, Iraq, takes a bite of birthday cake before passing it to the youngest Marine present, Lance Cpl. D'Armani Parks, 21, during a celebration of the Marine Corps's 241st birthday, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

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.”

garland.chad@stripes.com Twitter: @chadgarland

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Chad is a Marine Corps veteran who covers the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and sometimes elsewhere for Stars and Stripes. An Illinois native who’s reported for news outlets in Washington, D.C., Arizona, Oregon and California, he’s an alumnus of the Defense Language Institute, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Arizona State University.
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