Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point --
USS KEARSARGE - Opening his eyes, Cpl. Theodore Manning finds himself on a top sleeping rack with all the high-pitch bells and whistles of a ship going off in his ears. It is 6 in the morning and there are two Marines underneath him attempting to slide their way out of their racks without once again butting heads. The space is always tight and packed full of other Marines and sailors attempting to start their day.
This is the everyday life of a Marine or Sailor with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) for eight months. Manning, the operations noncommissioned officer-in-charge while assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 (Reinforced), falls into his daily routine while attempting to adjust to the ships constant sways and sudden rocking.
Waking up in the morning is rough for Marines on a MEU. Every day, crowding bathrooms and a seemingly endless line of hungry service members cueing up for chow on the mess deck of the LHD.
“Luckily we ran split crews, one for the day and the other at night,” said Manning. “So if you got up early enough the foot traffic in the [bathrooms] wasn’t too bad, and you could avoid the rush.”
Manning’s stomach ached for food as he stood in the ridiculous long meal lines
“You would have a line that started at the mess deck, and go all the way back to the gym which was right next to where we slept,” said the Newport News, Va. native. “You would have to catch them at the right time, or know the right people if you wanted to skip the line,” Manning explained with a smirk dashing across his face.
At 8 a.m., the Marines would head to their respective workstations to begin the day.
“Working on the MEU is way different than back home,” said Manning.”We deal with [five different aircraft on the ship] compared to the two we have back home.”
Manning, an aviation operations specialist by trade, tracked and logged flight hours and operations while aboard the Kearsarge, helping ensure routine maintenance in the hangar and safe flight operations on the flight deck, according to Capt. Justin Minick, Manning’s officer-in-charge while deployed.
Minick worked with Manning throughout the deployment as the operations administration officer-in-charge. Both Marines returned to normal duties at Cherry Point’s Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467 when the 26th MEU returned Stateside in November.
“Our shop did a fantastic job tracking and handling everything that was thrown at them on a daily basis,” said Minick. “It’s a high visibility job and they turned in all data timely and accurately.”
Manning was the only noncommissioned officer from HMLA-467 that attached to VMM-266 (Rein.).
“Cpl. Manning did a phenomenal job out there for us,” said Minick. “He was the one that brought the familiarity to the shop with his knowledge and ability to perform his duties solidly.”
Although this was Manning’s first deployment, it was not his first time on the USS Kearsarge. Manning spent 30 days aboard ship conducting exercises several months before departing in March.
“The pre-deployment training helped with adjusting to ship life. However, no amount of practice could prepare you for the flies in Jordan. Just walking around they would have you covered in seconds,” said Manning, referring to his time ashore in the Kingdom of Jordan.
While on the MEU, Marines and Sailors visited ports and conducted exercises in several nations. During these stops, service members experienced and learned about different cultures and traditions uncommon in the United States.
Flies aside, Manning said liberty ports and exercises ashore were some of his fondest memories of deployment and made the experience worthwhile.
“This was my first time outside of the States which made the experience amazing,” said Manning. “If they give me the chance I would do it all over again.”