KARBALA, Iraq -- Children cheered and even joined in as Marines, Army military police, and sailors attached to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment began their Independence Day celebrations with a run through the city streets.
The run was the beginning of a day of games and food to celebrate the holiday and boost morale of the Marines who are faithfully performing their duties thousands of miles away from home.
The run was for both honor and morale, said Lance Cpl Tundor S. Flint, from Philadelphia, a field radio operator with the battalion.
"The purpose of the run was to honor the Marines fallen, past and present, and also to build the morale of Marines, because we haven't run since before the war," he said.
The day's activities were about the Marines celebrating Independence Day, regardless of the location, said Lt. Col. Matthew A. Lopez, the battalion commander, from Naperville, Ill.
"We did it because the Marine Corps celebrates the 4th of July," he said. "It was just a celebration, to come together as a battalion."
Normally the Marines would get a 96-hour leave if they were not deployed, said Flint. In Iraq, though, that wasn't an option, so the command had a variety of activities to help the morale of the troops far from home, including a barbeque and a field meet.
The field meet involved a variety of competitions between the Marines, soldiers and sailors. They played basketball, tug-of-war, had a pull-up competition, volleyball, fireman-carry races, an M-16 relay, horseshoes, and a few more unorthodox competitions, including bull-in-the-ring, and a Hummvee push
"Bull-in-the-ring is a ring where you wrestle, and whoever stays in wins," said Flint. "In the Hummvee push, one Marine was in there driving, with four pushing. It was a timed event."
The day's events involved everyone who did not have guard duty or other obligations, said Flint. This included all the companies, which came from their positions throughout the city to participate, including the Army MP companies that are attached to the battalion.
The run inspired positive reaction from the local people who lined the streets to watch and cheer, Flint said.
"They stared, they cheered, they actually reacted very well," he said. "I think a few Iraqis joined in the run. It was beautiful, with the American flag and everything."
"I think they loved it," Lopez said. "They cheered us the whole way, and a lot of the kids ran along side of us. They lined the streets giving us thumbs up."
The Marines ended the run in true Marine Corps fashion with a set of push-ups.
The day's activities accomplished some good things, Flint and Lopez agreed.
"I think it gave the Marines a few hours to celebrate Independence Day, and an opportunity to forget that they were deployed to Iraq and share in the fellowship of their fellow Marines and sailors and soldiers," Lopez said.
"We celebrated Independence Day, it took our mind off the work, and we also accomplished our fitness," said Flint. "It was pretty good, with great food, and I enjoyed all the festivities. By the end, I think we achieved our mission of moral."
The day and how it was spent says something about the servicemembers with the battalion, Lopez said.
"I think the fact that the Marines had a great time was a tribute to their dedication," he said. "I know that to the man and woman, they would have all rather been back home with their families, but they have a job to do here, and their dedication and performance will ensure that their mission is accomplished."