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HUSAYBAH, Iraq — Even as explosions on the city’s edge shook the ground through the night, Marines celebrated their own inception with an annual birthday feast.

After six days of block-by-block combat and nothing to eat except Meals, Ready to Eat, the Marines who were on the front lines treated themselves to a steak dinner to celebrate the founding of their branch of service 230 years ago.

“That was the best steak I’ve ever had in my life,” Cpl. Nathan Blackwell of Fredonia, Kan., said after returning to his night watch post on an abandoned rooftop.

The dinner — steak with corn and baked potatoes, along with a choice of soda, Red Bull or non-alcoholic beer — was flown in from Al Asad Air Base and trucked into the city center to the scattered Iraqi homes where individual companies had set up temporary outposts for the night.

“Happy Birthday, you’re doing a great job gentlemen,” Lt. Col. Robert Oltman told one of many platoons he visited on Thursday night before dinner arrived.

The meal came on the sixth day of the Marine’s advance through the Syrian border city, after much of the fiercest resistance had faded away. In one of the largest operations in the past year, U.S. forces are sweeping though the city, believed to be a key transit point for weapons and suicide bombers coming into Iraq from Syria.

The food finally arrived shortly before 10 p.m., and many Marines scattered through the city jumped out of bed to get their first chow-hall food in more than a week.

“As soon as I heard that, I was up in a flash,” George Hruby, a 22-year-old lance corporal from Southern California.

Others, however, were exhausted from a week of pushing through the town and were already bedded down on the floor of pitch-black Iraqi homes.

“When its 9:30 at night and you’re worn and tired, you don’t really want to get up for chow,” said Lance Cpl. Roger Deed of Mississippi.

For some, the unexpected meal was difficult to digest.

“It was all right, but it made me sick because I’ve been eating too many MREs,” said Lance Cpl. Dustin Barr from Greeley, Colo.

Many of the troops here fought in the battle of Fallujah in April 2004, when the relentless heat suppressed their appetite. But now, with cool weather during the day and outright cold temperatures at night, the food was welcomed.

“This time, chow is actually something you think about,” Blackwell said.


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