CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan --
The children scanned the distant sky in anxiousness, eagerly awaiting the appearance of a special guest. Never the one to disappoint, he arrived atop a fire truck full of holiday cheer - Santa Claus had arrived.
Saint Nick’s visit was the centerpiece of the Christmas party for the Command Element of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. Held at Camp Hansen’s United Services Organization building, all unit personnel and their families gathered under one roof for good times and good food.
“It’s important to have a strong sense of camaraderie outside of work as well as during work,” said Cmdr. Nick Hamilton, chaplain for the 31st MEU and a native of Lakeview, Oreg. “We get to understand one another better by seeing how they interact with their families. Marines are not robots; we all have families of one kind or another.”
Held prior to the beginning of the holiday leave period, the party boasted a buffet-style dinner provided by spouses of the unit. Video game systems and a mountain of bubble wrap helped entertain the children, and distract them from the lone chair sitting empty upon the stage.
For the adults, the event provided an opportunity to mingle with well-known associates and get to know some of the unit’s new additions.
“My unit just attached to the 31st MEU, so this is a good way to get better associated with the command,” said Cpl. Matthew S. Healey, parachute rigger with the force reconnaissance platoon, 31st MEU, and a native of Long Beach, Calif. “It allows us to make more of a positive presence and to know those we’ll be working with.”
After dinner, the announcement was made that Santa would soon be on his way. Young children dragged their parents behind them to see Father Christmas under a cascade of fire truck lights heading inside to join the party. Filling the chair on stage, he called each child by name to present them with a gift.
A night that culminated with a home-cooked holiday meal and gifts from Santa demonstrated the bond between the Marines, Sailors and their families in the 31st MEU.
“The Marine Corps is a big family, and it’s comforting to see the people that have your spouse’s back when deployed,” said Erica Mowrey, a Command Element spouse and a native of Lander, Wyo. “When the Marines are deployed, the other spouses offer a really strong support system, so it is very helpful to know them as more than acquaintances.”
The Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU will enjoy a short holiday leave period before beginning a series of pre-deployment training exercises in January.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.