AD DIWANIYAH, Iraq -- Despite security issues that delayed Fourth of July festivities for three days, almost 1,000 members of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines and Army soldiers at Camp Get Some enjoyed Independence Day in style.
Competitive events and grilled chow marked the occasion in Ad Diwaniyah. The celebration was postponed so that security on the base camp and in the city could be strengthened.
Other than fighting together on the battlefield, this is only the second occasion since crossing the berm into Iraq that the entire battalion has gathered as one. The battalion formed part of the spearhead of coalition forces that made their way toward Baghdad.
It was the first time in a while that many Marines were able to see friends with whom they had lost contact since the early days of the war.
"This is a good chance to see a lot of friends and find out how they have been doing since coming into Iraq," said Marine Sgt. Brad Diaz, a native of Redding, Calif. and Lima Company mortar section leader. "We get to unite together as one big family - not just Army, Marine Corps and Navy. This helps to take my mind off not being at home."
Friendly competition between the companies comes in the form of sporting events and table games.
"We have sporting days such as this and the company with the most points at the end of the games gets the 'Best of the Best' guidon," said Marine Sgt. Maj. Joe Lewis Vines Sr., the battalion sergeant major from Spring Hope, N.C. "This is motivational for the Marines because they display the guide on at home and carry it in formation runs to show they have the best of the best."
A grueling Iron Man competition began early in the morning with one member from each company required to do 60 pull-ups; 1-mile run in "boots and utes;" lunges for 200 yards; another 1-mile run; 300 four-count flutter kicks; a 1-mile run again; 300 pushups; the 1-mile run with a flak jacket; holding a modified pushup position for 5 minutes, and finally a final 1-mile run wearing a flak jacket and a 60-pound rucksack. Exhausted Lance Cpl. Roberto Pickering, a rifleman in India Company and from Athens, Ga., completed the event with a first-place time of 1:06:58.
Other contests included: a relay race using entrenching tools as batons; a Humvee pull, where 4 pullers and 1 driver move the vehicle 30 yards; a horse shoe competition; table tennis matches; chess and spades tournaments; and games of basketball, soccer, football and volleyball.
"Friendly competition between the companies is good to relieve stress," said Navy Lt. Mark Tanis, the battalion chaplain.
The Marines of 3rd Battalion have been working hard since January and morale has wavered at times. Some Marines talk of the low points in this deployment as being when they have lost members of their unit in firefights or when they ran out of food. But a common high point in the deployment is getting better food, said Tanis, a resident of Carlsbad, Calif.
As a change of pace, the prepared meal was served by officers and senior noncommissioned officers. The menu featured steak, lobster and shrimp and trimmings with a patriotic flair such as red, white and blue tablecloths.
"This was worth the wait," said Diaz smiling and nodding his head emphatically.
"It is a different experience being out of the country on the 4th of July," said Army Sgt. Melissa Thom. "I feel more patriotic - not just knowing this for myself, but also projecting this to the people of Iraq."
Thom, of Ripon, Wis., is a government support team member in the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion of Green Bay, Wis.
After all the points for the games were added up, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines won the honors of adding their streamer to the "Best of the Best" guidon and carrying it in formations until the next round of competitions. The company will also get three days use of a satellite phone for Marines to call back home.
The evening culminated with a talent show where several groups of Marines from the companies performed for the entertainment of the battalion. Afterwards the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Patrick Malay from Buffalo, N.Y., addressed the gathered Marines and reviewed their three watch phrases: Do no harm. Win their hearts and minds. Be ready to defend yourself in a heartbeat.
"You Devil Dogs will look back and remember 'I was there,'" Malay said. "I wouldn't want to be here with anyone other than 3/5."