USS KEARSARGE, AT SEA -- “Reveille, reveille, reveille,” a high-pitch, garbled voice loudly announces over the intercom, sending reverberations throughout the compact living area. Six a.m. and Lance Cpl. Nicholas A. Taft is awake, though his body rebels at the adjustment as the ship sailed east through another time zone the night before.
The Marines and sailors with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit have trained together for five months preparing for their current mission. Taft, a landing support specialist with Combat Logistics Battalion 26, 26th MEU, climbs out of his individual sleeping space: a Navy “rack” half the width of most children’s beds and stacked three or four high against another row of racks.
"Everything is pretty tight living in berthing," said Taft. "If the people around you weren't your friends before, they are now."
Trying not to hit the steel outline of his sleeping area or any of the other hard surfaces in the small space, Taft maneuvers out of his rack and into the row. He shares his living space with more than 100 of his fellow Marines. Each of them tries to maintain his footing as they work around each other going to the "head,” the Navy's version of a restroom, to brush their teeth, shower, shave and put on their uniforms as the deck beneath them constantly rocks as the ship sails the ocean.
Marines and sailors move about the narrow passageways and try to avoid slamming their shins on the “knee-knockers,” raised steel barriers at hatches separating sections of the ship. They ascend and descend steep ladderwells holding onto the handrails, anticipating the slow rolls the ship might make.
After a 45-minute wait in line for morning chow, they proceed to their work spaces, squeezing past each other in the passageways and sending out a greeting of, “good morning,” or, "Oorah!"
As the ships of Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group make their way across the Atlantic Ocean to support humanitarian assistance efforts in Pakistan, 26th MEU Marines continue to live, work and conduct training and operations aboard the ships.
"Marines need to stay focused as we make our way to our destination," said Sgt. Jhensenn J. Reyes, a rifleman with Headquarters and Service Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/8, 26th MEU. "We have plenty of downtime in transit so we've got to make sure we don’t get complacent because at any moment we could be called on to do any type of mission."
Infantrymen with BLT 3/8 will maintain their weapons, conduct casualty evacuation drills, go over combat tactics, hold essential Marine Corps classes, and other events that keep them prepared to conduct missions on land.
"We have a daily routine. When we get up in the morning we clean, go out to conduct physical training, and in the afternoon we have classes," said Lance Cpl. Gregory J. Davis, a scout sniper with Headquarters and Service Company, BLT 3/8. "In transit we are not under combat stress so we can take this opportunity to mentally and physically prepare for any situation we may face."
“The ship is at flight quarters,” the voice from above announces, signaling the beginning of aircraft operations on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship.
Other MEU Marines will go up to the flight deck to perform their duties as aviation Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 (Reinforced) (VMM-266).
"While we are in transit, the crews have a certain number of flight hours we need to conduct to stay current," said Cpl. Kathleen A. Walker, a MV-22 Osprey crew chief with VMM-266. "Perfect practice makes perfect so we train constantly for everything because we don’t know what situations we may end up in."
In between training and work, Marines spend their off-time taking advantage of the ship gym and library, attending college courses, or socializing with fellow service members.
"Having downtime allows us to get away from the ship life for a little bit and create some norms to replace the ones we had when we were not on ship," Davis explained. "It really helps us balance our jobs with personal lives."
The ship continues to move as they conduct operations and do what is expected of them as Marines. As the day winds down, so do the Marines, whether they like to read, play a musical instrument or watch a movie, they get ready for the next day in whatever manner suits them best.
The Marines prepare to climb back into their racks and get some much needed sleep as the voice comes back over the speakers.
"Taps. Taps. Lights out. All hands maintain silence about the decks. Taps."