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191110-M-EC058-1038 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 10, 2019) U.S. Marine Corps Col. Fridrik Fridriksson, the commanding officer of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), cuts a cake during a 244th Marine Corps birthday celebration aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). The Marines and Sailors of the 11th MEU are conducting routine operations as part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group in the eastern Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck)

Photo by Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck

11th MEU first, last unit to celebrate 244th Marine Corps Birthday

11 Nov 2019 | Capt. James Stenger 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Have you ever woken up and thought that today is a lot like the day before? Like you’re in that movie Groundhog Day?

This is a common refrain from many a Marine on deployment, but it has taken on new meaning for the Marines and Sailors of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Today, on the second November 10th of the year, the only Marine Corps Air-Ground Task Force to be deployed aboard an amphibious ready group celebrated two Marine Corps birthdays. 

We promise this will all make sense in the end.

The International Date Line

If you’re a Marine and have ever had the privilege of serving alongside your brothers and sisters in the U.S. Navy aboard one of their warships, then you know the pleasure of regularly shifting time zones.

When a ship is sailing eastward or westward, the time zone can shift every day or every other day depending on how fast the ship is moving through the water. One of the advantages of being aboard a ship is that it is essentially a small, self-contained city. The ship’s commander, or mayor of this city, can make a change to the time schedule whenever he or she decides is most appropriate for their mission. This is in keeping with long standard naval traditions and was adopted to ensure the ships in a fleet were operating on the same work schedule. 

The concept of naval ships adhering to nautical date lines was established following a 1917 meeting in London. After the aptly named Time-keeping at Sea Conference, the fleets of the British, French and American militaries adopted a standard practice of conforming to the imaginary lines in the sea for telling time. 

When the USS Boxer, USS John P. Murtha and USS Harpers Ferry, otherwise known as the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, began sailing east toward the international date line during their 2019 deployment, the leadership aboard recognized they were going to be repeating a day in the calendar.

Because the ships of the ARG started Nov. 10 on the furthest eastern edge of the international date line, they were the first military unit to wake up on the birthday of the Marine Corps. The ships then traveled eastward across the line and immediately rolled their clocks backward a full 24 hours, thus spending another day celebrating the Marine Corps’ day of birth. They then ended the day on the furthest western edge of the line. Therefore, the Marines and Sailors of the Boxer ARG and 11th MEU were both the first and last military service members to celebrate on Nov. 10. 

“I’ve been serving in this organization for a while. This is the first time I have been with a unit that was both the first and last to celebrate the birthday of the Marine Corps,” said Col. Fridrik Fridriksson, commanding officer of the 11th MEU, currently embarked on the Boxer ARG.

191110-M-EC058-1048 Photo by Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck

The Marine Corps Birthday

Marines know. They know it’s coming. They prepare for it like anyone would prepare for their own birthday – perhaps even a little bit more. 

A time-honored tradition that dates all the way back to the founding of the Corps, the celebration of the birthday is practically a national holiday. Although, it may just seem that way because it is the day before Veterans Day every year, which means a day off of work to honor service members from all branches of the military. 

But for the Marines, and those Sailors fortunate enough to serve alongside them, the day really is revered. Ask any Marine, past or present, active or retired, and they’ll know the birthday of the Marine Corps.

The Celebration Day(s)

“When we looked at the calendar and talked it over with the ships’ navigators, we realized we’d be crossing the international date line on exactly Nov. 10,” said Lt. Cmdr. Matt Martinez, the plans officer for Amphibious Squadron FIVE. “We knew that repeating the Marines’ birthday would mean something special.”

With the schedule in hand, the Marines formulated a plan. Stoically, they dubbed the first iteration of the birthday “10A” on the plan of the day. With much fanfare, the second birthday was named “10B.” Marines aren’t known for their poetry.

November 10 falls on a Sunday. Most deployed ships in the U.S. Navy enjoy a “holiday routine” on Sundays, and the ships of the Boxer ARG are no different. On 10A, in accordance with tradition, the USS Boxer hosted a brunch to boost the morale of the crew. A time to unwind a little and decompress from the rigors of a deployment, deployed brunch is a sacred time full of camaraderie and typically, an all-you-can-eat buffet. 

On 10B, the birthday celebrations aboard ship began with remarks and a traditional cake-cutting ritual featuring the oldest and youngest Marine in the unit. The ceremonies take on an abbreviated form while forward deployed. The party is a bit shorter, because the work is still happening. Gone are the dress blues, replaced by camouflage utilities, maintenance coveralls, and flight suits. However, while some details may be different, the reason why the Marines care so much about their birthday, and why they’d want to have two of them – that doesn’t change a bit.

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