AL ASAD, Iraq -- Sailors and Marines congregated at the base theater here Oct. 15 to celebrate the Navy’s 229th birthday.
Featuring the patriotic music of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band, the festivities included a multi-service color guard, guest speakers, as well as a cake cutting ceremony-- all designed to celebrate the rich tradition of the Navy.
Every year since it’s establishment as the Continental Navy on October 13, 1775, the Navy commemorates its anniversary and reflects on its heritage.
Participating in the event here were Sailors from every Navy and Marine Corps command and unit aboard the air base, including 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, 1st Force Service Support Group, and 1st Marine Division.
According to Boonville, Mo., native Chief Petty Officer David M. Ruhlman, leading chief petty officer, Surgical Company A, 1st Medical Battalion, 1st FSSG, the task of arranging a birthday ceremony in a combat zone was not without its obstacles.
“It was a challenge to organize an event like this while out here,” said the 41-year-old. “It was difficult to find all the items we needed to perform the ceremony.”
“We really had to scrape and scrounge to get some of the ceremonial pieces for the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action table,” remarked 31-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y. native Petty Officer 1st Class Juan J. Rivera, hospital corpsman, Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3, 3rd MAW. “We had a couple of Sailors arrive from the United States with items, just before the ceremony and we got silverware, plates and drinking glasses from the chowhall and local Iraqi shops on base.
“Everything came together just right at the last minute,” he added.
One of the celebration’s main organizers, Ruhlman was given the responsibility of making sure the event ran smoothly.
“The (Sailors) deserved to have a great birthday,” he said. “It was important that we get it right.”
Addressing the birthday crowd, Ruhlman read the official Navy birthday message from Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Vern Clark.
“As we celebrate the Navy’s 229th Birthday, our mission remains clear: we must protect our homeland, our freedom, and our way of life by stopping the forces of terrorism wherever they may hide,” he said.
Also heaping words of praise and encouragement upon the Navy during the event was a special guest of honor.
“The performance of the Navy has been absolutely spectacular during Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Maj. Gen. Keith J. Stalder, commanding general, 3rd MAW. “I’m proud to be a part of the joint operation between the Navy and Marine Corps.”
“Thank you for all that you do,” he added. “Happy birthday to the greatest Navy there ever was.”
The ceremony was full of many memorable moments that took on a greater significance due to the Sailors serving Iraq.
“The POW table stood out to me the most,” said 33-year-old Coltsneck, N.J., native Petty Officer 2nd Class Maria H. Gilmore, preventive medicine technician, Marine Wing Support Squadron 472, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd MAW. “It seemed more real because of the fact that we’re over here and in danger ourselves.”
For many Sailors who attended, celebrating the Navy’s birthday in Iraq was truly a unique experience.
“This is a ceremony I’ll never forget,” said Gilmore. “I’m keeping the (birthday) program.”