AL ASAD, Iraq -- While the howling engine of an EA-6B Prowler echoed across an isolated airfield, the moonlight shined softly on the backs of two Marines toeing the start line of a unit’s run honoring the 231 years of faithful service by the U.S. Marine Corps, Nov. 10.
The commemorative 231-mile run performed by Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 3, Marine Central Command, began at 9:00 p.m., Nov. 8, and continued unceasingly until 11:00 a.m., Nov. 10. Every half hour, a pair of runners handed off two uniquely designed batons to the next pair of Moon Dog Marines for their portion of the three-mile run.
“This is the first time I have ever heard of anything like it,” said Sgt. Bradley A. Morales, the VMAQ-3 supply and logistics chief. “The birthday celebration is a big deal for Marines everywhere, regardless of where they’re stationed. It’s a great thing to be able to partake in something of this size and caliber and to physically get a squadron out and run 231 miles collectively.”
During the cold nights and windblown days, the batons were exchanged 76 times in three days. The last handoff was to the initial runners, Sgt. Maj. John P. Ballard and Lt. Col. Marshall Denney III, as most of the squadron Marines completed the last three-mile leg together.
“The idea came from one of my previous commands,” said Ballard, the squadron sergeant major and a Sweetwater, Ala., native. “I saw the camaraderie and the things that were shared between the Marines during that event and decided to do it out here. It brought those Marines closer together, and to be able to do it in a combat environment is even better. The Marines can sometimes feel detached from the mission, because the day-to-day job becomes monotonous to them, and this was an opportunity for us to break that up.”
Though the Moon Dogs spent hours planning and executing the run, they remained focused on the purpose of the Marine Corps birthday as originally stated in Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune’s message to the Corps as Commandant in 1921:
“On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date, many thousand men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them, it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the Birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.”
“You go back to the intent of General Lejeune -- the celebrating and honoring of the Marine Corps. When you can’t celebrate at a ball, you honor,” said Denney III, the Moon Dogs commanding officer and a Cherry Point, N.C., native. “So when we’re deployed, we try to find ways to honor the occasion. I think not having a ball and being deployed actually helps Marines understand what it’s all about. You don’t get caught up in the routine of ‘the time of the ball.’”
The run was all about remembering why the historic day was important, Ballard explained.
“The run was an opportunity to share in our history and traditions, and to know that no matter where we are, as Marines, it’s important to acknowledge those that came before us,” Ballard said. “It’s awesome. To me, this is what being a Marine is all about. There’s a few things we do in the Marine Corps -- one being the mess night and the other the Marine Corps Birthday Ball -- that really pass on the tradition and history of the Marine Corps.”
After completing his portion of the run, Morales said he plans to continue the running tradition as he goes forward with his career in the years to come.
“Since I have been in the Marine Corps, I have been to two birthday balls,” said Morales, an Indianapolis, native. “The feeling I got out of this run was more significant than either of those two. Those two birthday balls were never as impacting as this run. This, by far, has been the ball for me. It didn’t need to be a formal setting.”
As the Marine Corps adds another year, the history and traditions will be carried on by the next generation and for some, another tradition has begun.
“This is something I plan on taking to any command I go to,” said Morales. “It was unbelievable. If anything instills esprit de corps and camaraderie, then this run was it.”
Disclaimer -- Photos associated with this article can be found at the following links:
1 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200611238227
2 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/20061123858
3 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200611238115
4 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006112383136
5 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006112381513
6 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200611238171
7 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006112381959
8 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006112382311