USS NEW ORLEANS, At Sea (NNS) -- Sailors and Marines from the U.S., Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Uruguay crossed the equator together aboard USS New Orleans (LPD 18), June 26, during a three-month deployment in support of Southern Partnership Station (SPS) 2010.
"Slimy polywogs" (wogs) from the U.S. and Mexico were transformed into "trusty shellbacks" during a time-honored "crossing the line ceremony". The ceremony, which dates back to the Middle Ages, was originally intended to prove a Sailor's worth as a mariner.
"We have the same sort of ceremony in my country," said Lt. j.g. Juan Pablo Rosato of the Argentine navy. "It is interesting to see how similar our maritime cultures are to one another. I think that being able to participate in the rite of passage with another friendly navy is always an honor and it allows us to know each other better."
Cmdr. Pacheco Perez of the Mexican navy experienced the rite of passage with the rest of his Sailors aboard the ship.
"I went through the same thing on one of our ships already, but wanted to go through it here as an example to my sailors," said Pacheco. "I think this type of ceremony builds esprit de corps among mariners. I think it is rare for a sailor from Mexico to have gone through the line-crossing ceremony on an American ship. I plan to hang the certificate in my home with pride."
A bit of theatrics set the stage for the ceremony as "King Neptune" sent his messenger, Davy Jones, to the New Orleans. Jones informed Commanding Officer Capt. Jeff Oakey he would be coming aboard the following day and all slimy wogs would have to appear before him. This was followed by a talent show performed by the wogs.
The following morning began with a breakfast prior to the launch of the real festivities. King Neptune's royal party, with all its pomp and circumstance, visited the ship and put the wogs through their paces, ultimately resulting in a full crew of trusty shellbacks. Some Brazilian naval officers, who earned the honor of becoming shellbacks in their own navy, participated in the "cleansing" of the slimy wog infestation along with the other shellbacks. In the end, 200 sailors and marines from the U.S. and Mexico earned the distinction.
"It felt good to make the transition from slimy wog to trusty shellback," said Information Systems Technician Seaman Apprentice Keith Mehle of the Combat Systems department. "It made me feel like I was really part of the crew," he said.
The ceremony has evolved over the years into an enjoyable and completely voluntary rite of passage allowing participants to mark the significance of crossing the equator with a memorable event. The opportunity to share such an important Navy tradition with sailors and marines from partner nations makes the event even more significant.
"I come from a long line of Sailors," said Religious Programs Specialist 2nd Class Adrian Campbell. "My father was in the Coast Guard, and my grandfather, my uncle, and my brother were in the Navy, and they're all shellbacks. It's an honor to be able to say that I'm now a shellback as well. Being able to go through this with sailors and marines from other countries makes it especially significant. Sharing this part of our culture with them, I think makes us closer and more of a team," he said.
New Orleans, along with Amphibious Squadron 5; 4th Platoon, Company C, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 1st Marine Division; and other embarked units are participating in Southern Partnership Station (SPS).
SPS is a deployment of various specialty platforms to the U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility in Latin America and the Caribbean. The mission's primary goal is information sharing with navies, coast guards, and civilian services throughout the region. SPS provides the opportunity for joint operations between partner nations, which develops and tests participating regional civil and maritime services' capabilities to respond to a wide variety of maritime missions while keeping open vital lines of communication between regional services