ABOARD USS BATAAN -- Since the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit was officially activated June 23, the unit's Marines and Sailors have labored to turn the separate elements that make up the MEU into one, cohesive fighting force.
The unit is entering its second-to-last training exercise known as the Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX), which involves integrating the elements of the 26th MEU with the elements of the Bataan Strike Group. After COMPTUEX the unit will conduct its Certification Exercise (CERTEX) before a scheduled 2007 deployment.
Fortunately for the Marines and Sailors aboard the USS Bataan, they were able to take a small respite from the hectic training schedule to play a few games of Texas Hold 'em poker, Saturday night.
The USS Bataan played host to the games, and Ivory N. Harris, the Afloat Recreation Specialist aboard the Bataan, organized the event. Harris, the Bataan's Morale, Welfare, and Recreation "Fun Boss" is in charge of all the special events, recreational events, and port visits aboard the Bataan.
She said the poker tournament, which was just for fun and involved no real money, is a good opportunity for the Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU and the Sailors of the USS Bataan to sit down and socialize with each other.
"Sailors and Marines who haven't spoken to each other at all are sitting across from each other and talking," Harris said.
She said that type of socialization is important for the Marines and Sailors.
"We're all part of one team now," she said. "We all have the same mission and the same goal; if it takes a poker night to help the process, then so be it."
Bringing validity to Harris' idea of building camaraderie, a cacophony of winning cheers and losing groans filled the air of the Bataan's mess deck as Petty Officer 1st Class (SW) Todd M. Jeffreys nursed a steadily diminishing pile of chips before him.
Jeffreys, who feels he has completed more deployments aboard ships than he can remember, said he has participated in a lot of MWR events in the past.
He said though Texas Hold 'em poker nights are relatively new, he really enjoys them.
"They're a good way to pass the time and a good morale-builder," he said, adding, "It's a great way to promote camaraderie between fleet Marines and Sailors.
Corporal Jason H. Cantrell, a hydraulic mechanic in the 26th MEU's, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Rein.), agreed with Jeffreys, although the stack of chips before him showed his fortunes, and perhaps, morale, were a bit higher.
"MWR events are awesome," he said. "They take your mind off things."
Cantrell, whose first ship deployment will be aboard the Bataan, said he looks forward to future events.
"They are a good idea," he said. "They help people relax and get to know each other."
The 26th MEU is nearing the end of a grueling six-month predeployment training period designed to forge the disparate elements into a cohesive, rapid-reaction force. Along with the Bataan Strike Group, the 26th MEU will continue to train for a scheduled 2007 deployment in the Global War on Terror.
For more news, information and video on the 26th MEU please visit www.usmc.mil/26meu.