USS GERMANTOWN, At Sea — Naval ships transport Marines from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’, and that’s about as much as many people know about Marines living on ship. But the grey skin on the outside of these ships obscures a dynamic environment within, as the Navy - Marine Corps team thrives between the bulkheads.
Following a successful Exercise Cobra Gold 2012 in the Kingdom of Thailand, Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit re-boarded ships of Amphibious Squadron 11 for transport to their next mission.
On the USS Germantown (LSD-42), Marines and Sailors representing every element of the Marine Air Ground Task Force work alongside their Navy counterparts to maintain their readiness for the road ahead.
“We are absolutely honored to have Marines on board, it brings a whole new level of pride and professionalism as it reminds us Sailors of our military bearing,” said Cmdr. Carol Mckenzie, captain of USS Germantown. “We are glad to have them aboard as America’s most valuable asset, and we take care of them so they are well prepared before they go ashore.”
Every day on ship, Marines and Sailors maintain their readiness with activities ranging from martial arts instruction and combat lifesaving classes, to flight qualifications and vehicle repairs.
“On ship, training is much more hands on rather than learning by PowerPoint or talking, and I learn better that way,” said Cpl. Deunte Williams, administrative specialist with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU, and native of Dallas, Texas.. “Living in close quarters builds camaraderie and forces you to work with other units and be team player to get the job done.”
The operational tempo on ship is continuous, leaving little time for socialization. However, the three daily meal times every Marine and Sailor adheres to offers the opportunity to relax and get to know each other.
The food served is not restaurant quality, but the hard working, hungry Marines and Sailors on the USS Germantown find it acceptable. The only consistent complaint in the chow line is about the line itself.
“The whole process of waiting and getting chow takes about an hour, if you go at the right time,” said Cpl. Tim McAnulty, a cannoneer with Battery L, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st MEU. “I wasn’t expecting the best quality once I got on ship after hearing horror stories, however, I was pleasantly surprised to have high-quality food; much better than what we were eating in Afghanistan.”
With Marines onboard the vessel, the chow lines are longer than the Sailors are used to, the walk ways are often congested and the gym is always packed. Despite the inconveniences of the Marines’ presence, the Sailors welcome the addition.
“It is nice to have them onboard. They’ve all been a great help, especially during working parties,” said Seaman Brooke Haney, a Sailor with the Deck Department of the USS Germantown. “They are all polite and always offer to help me if I need it. There were a lot of times they’d see me moving heavy equipment and would offer their help.”
With little to do except work, eat, work out and sleep on a Navy vessel, the daily work hours of the Marines is different than ashore. It is not uncommon to find Marines relaxing or taking a nap in the middle of the day to meet the demands of a longer schedule.
“It’s basically a 12 hour day, and any time you and the crew aren’t resting you are planning, briefing, or flying, so it’s a pretty demanding regime while on ship,” said Captain Nolan Tankersley, a CH-46 pilot with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265, 31st MEU.
In between 12 hour shifts and periods of rest, physical fitness is a common focus for the Marines and Sailors. It is challenging to maintain a training regimen in a confined environment, but the adaptive warriors of the 31st MEU find ways to do it. The well deck of the ship, currently holding numerous Marine vehicles and a Navy landing craft, still provides enough room to run laps during the day. Also, three small gyms provide weights and benches for more anaerobic fitness styles.
“Using the gym is a little frustrating because it’s hard to fit more than 10 at a time, but what I do is use it early in the morning or run in the well-deck,” said Cpl. Donald White, a utilities mechanic with CLB 31, 31st MEU. “Everyone ends up figuring out their own schedule to get a good workout in.”
Naval tradition is new to several of the Marines who currently reside on the USS Germantown, but it is something they quickly assimilate to. Some of the daily traditions include: requesting permission from the senior officer in the mess to join and leave the officers’ mess, daily ‘piping’ and whistles to indicate significant events and chaplains providing a nightly prayer on ship.
The journeys between missions provides Marines an opportunity to get in touch with their naval roots, as Marines originally served as the boarding and defense forces for ships over two centuries ago. Naval vessels carried and delivered Marines as an amphibious assault force since the inception of the nation.
“It is our heritage to carry Marines and land them on beaches. We are honored to get back to the grassroots of our operations and give many of these Marines their first transit and amphibious assault experience aboard the USS Germantown,” said McKenzie.
The 31st MEU is the U.S.’s expeditionary force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region, and is currently deployed with Amphibious Squadron 11.