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Col. Patrick J. Malay, commanding officer, Regimental Combat Team 5, cuts the first piece of cake during the regiment's Marine Corps birthday ceremony while Sgt. Maj. Robert D. Thielen, the regiment's sergeant major, observes at Camp Ripper, Iraq, Nov. 10. The Marines of RCT-5, which is the most decorated regiment in the Marine Corps, have been in Iraq since the beginning of the year and took time to celebrate the Marine Corps 233rd birthday.::r::::n::

Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Jason Bortz

‘Fighting Fifth’ celebrates 233rd Marine Corps Birthday

10 Nov 2008 | Gunnery Sgt. Jason Bortz

Marines with Headquarters Company, Regimental Combat Team 5, the most decorated regiment in the Marine Corps, took time from a hectic deployment schedule Nov. 10 to celebrate the 233rd birthday of the Marine Corps. 

Missing from the ceremony were a band, a large dance floor and fancy ball gowns, but the importance of celebrating the Corps’ birthday in a combat zone was not lost on the Marines in attendance.

“There is no better place for the ‘Fighting Fifth’ than a combat zone to celebrate this birthday,” said Col. Patrick J. Malay, the commanding officer of RCT-5, as he addressed the Marines.  “Thank you for your hard work and dedication; you are making a difference.”

The Marines of RCT-5 have been in Iraq since the beginning of the year, and having the opportunity to gather and celebrate with those who have shared the hardships of a deployment was significant for many of the Marines.  As Malay said, “(Marine Corps) birthdays mean different things to different people.”

For Cpl. Blake R. Smith, 19, a motor transportation operator with RCT-5, it was an opportunity to be the youngest Marine present for the second year in a row. 

“It means a lot; it’s honorable having the traditions of the Marine Corps birthday passed on,” said Smith, who is from Carson City, Nevada.

During a Marine Corps birthday ceremony, the oldest Marine present passes a piece of cake to the youngest Marine present to symbolize the passing of traditions from the older Marines to the younger Marines.

The oldest Marine present was Sgt. Maj. Robert D. Thielen, 47, the regiment’s sergeant major, from Richmond, Minn.

This is Thielen’s 30th Marine Corps birthday, but his fondest memories are of the simple ones away from home, like this one.  In 1984, Thielen celebrated the Marine Corps birthday in the jungles of Panama with his fellow Marines with some fresh oysters and a guitar.

“That was just a great time,” said Thielen, recalling the memory.

Lieutenant Col. Robert “Ogre” McCarthy, the executive office for RCT-5, has a similar memory: he celebrated the Marine Corps birthday in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993.  Not having the resources to have the traditional birthday cake, McCarthy and his Marines used a watermelon instead. 

“We just asked the (Marine Expeditionary Unit) commander to slice our watermelon,” said McCarthy, who is from East Bridgewater, Mass., with a big grin on his face. 

Some Marines, like Sgt. Steve A. Lee, 24, platoon sergeant with Motor Transportation Platoon, RCT-5, use the Marine Corps birthday to make a huge decision in life, like to reenlist.  Serving with RCT-5 in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006, Lee reenlisted on the Marine Corps birthday and is now on his second deployment to Iraq.

“What better day to reenlist than on the Marine Corps birthday,” said Lee, who is from Sanford, Fla.

For Staff Sgt. Joseph A. Encarnacion, 29, mess chief, RCT-5, remembering the Marine Corps birthday is easy; it’s also his birthday.  This is Encarnacion’s 10th Marine Corps birthday and second in a combat zone.

“Even though we are in Iraq, we have to keep traditions going,” said Encarnacion, who is from Lynn, Mass.  “This is one of the best Marine Corps birthdays I have ever had.”

Despite serving in a combat zone, the Marines with RCT-5 have enjoyed a deployment with few casualties, something that has not always been the case for Marines in Iraq.

Master Sgt. Paul A. Hoffman, 38, the operations chief for RCT-5, is thankful to be celebrating a birthday in Iraq in relative peace.

“This (birthday) is more emotional because I remember the bad ones,” said Hoffman, who is from Duncan, Okla.  “It brings back the memories of those that were lost.  It’s nice to be here now, in the same country, and have a nice meal and celebrate.”

Whether it’s with a birthday ball complete with the glitz and glam or in the middle of nowhere with a watermelon, Marines past and present will always take a moment on Nov. 10 to recognize the Marine Corps birthday.

“No one does a birthday like the Marine Corps,” said Thielen.