USS BONHOMME RICHARD, At Sea -- Normally covered with aircraft and the sound of whirling rotors, the flight deck of the ship bustled with hundreds of troops enjoying sunshine and fresh barbecue.
Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and Sailors of Amphibious Squadron 11 celebrated their Independence Day with a “steel beach picnic” here, July 4.
The entire crew not only got time off from the constant pace of being deployed, but also got a chance to celebrate the beloved American holiday.
“Even though we don’t get to enjoy these days off while deployed like we do when we are home, at minimum, we should reflect on why we joined this green-gun club and why we wear our uniform and its impact on our nation and the world,” said Sgt. Maj. Gonzalo “Butch” Vasquez, the 31st MEU sergeant major and a native of Belize, Central America.
Independence Day, celebrated every July 4th, is a time to reflect on the memory of those brave Americans who resisted oppression against great odds and created a better tomorrow for future generations. John Adams, founder and former president, said that Independence Day “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, bells, and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever more,” according to Maj. Gen. Charles L. Hudson, the commanding general of Marine Corps Installations Pacific, in his Independence Day message to the Marines.
Steel beach is a term used to signify the unique picnic held on the flight deck of a steel ship.
The “blue and green” team grilled more than 1,300 burgers, 800 pieces of chicken and 800 hotdogs. The leaders of both commands used four large grills to fill over 2,000 plates of all the Marines and Sailors aboard the ship.
“While we were celebrating the Fourth of July, it gave the leaders a chance to demonstrate that every Sailor or Marine, regardless of rank, matters,” said Petty Officer First Class Aaron M.L. Young, the air department lead petty officer with PHIBRON 11 and a native of Minneapolis, Minn. “It builds camaraderie throughout the blue and green teams when you see your leaders out here serving you food, showing that they care about your welfare.”
The celebration provided a small taste of home and the usual activities of a popular American holiday. The fresh barbecue brought the familiar smells and tastes, while the Marines and Sailors filled the void of family for each other.
“There is no getting around it, we miss home, but having a couple thousand brothers and sisters helps us through the deployment and distance from home,” said Lance Cpl. Benjamin W. Kinney, a meteorological forecast analyst with the 31st MEU and a native of Medford, Ore. “It is definitely awesome that we got to enjoy a nice barbeque and you can’t beat the view.”
With popular music playing in the background and sunshine overhead, the service members reveled at the chance to play beanbag toss and other games on the flight deck.
“The Marines and Sailors work hard to be ready when needed and taking a little time off is good for them,” said Sgt. Maj. Gary T. Bow, sergeant major of Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st MEU, and a native of Louisville, Ky. “We celebrate our country’s independence no matter where we are or what we are doing.”
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.