By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Gordon
SOUTH CHINA SEA (July 4, 2016) – Across the 50 states on the Fourth of July, smoke wafts from barbecues to fill the streets with delicious aromas, mingling with the sounds of families and friends celebrating one of their most beloved holidays. As the sun goes down sporadic colored bursts of light fill the night sky with blossoming explosions. Thousands of miles away from home Sailors aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) do what they can to keep those traditions alive.
For some Americans, the Fourth of July is a day off work when they can sleep in. Similarly, some Ronald Reagan Sailors had holiday routine, which allowed them to sleep in, but more than a hundred leaped out of their racks before 7:30 a.m., laced up their running shoes, climbed up to the flight deck and ran the Freedom 5K Fit Run to give sweat in honor of those who gave more.
“I had to tell people I did something on the Fourth of July, right?” said Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Mathew Burtell, a 5k participant, from Dearborn, Michigan. “It’s pretty motivating seeing all the planes up here, the destroyers on the horizon. (it) makes me feel proud to serve.”
Later on in the day, while moms and dads and families and neighbors and friends passed around plates of barbecue, aboard Ronald Reagan, the ship’s commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief served hotdogs and hamburgers to the crew, who topped off the meal with ice cream floats.
“This is my favorite holiday of all time. It’s the least I can do to see all these great Sailors coming in and out of our line,” said Ronald Reagan’s Command Master Chief Jason Haka, from Fort Lauderdale. “Look at where we’re at – the South China Sea – 5,500 great Americans aboard this ship protecting and defending the freedom of America. I’d love to be in the states right now spending time with family, but this is also my family.”
After lunch, Sailors enjoyed another American pastime by throwing a ball back and forth, but grass is hard to find on an aircraft carrier. Soccer balls were kicked, footballs were tossed and basketballs were dribbled on the abrasive nonskid in hangar bay three.
As the afternoon gave way to evening and the games wound down, the ship began to hum in anticipation of the most common Fourth of July tradition: fireworks.
Instead of the traditional colored fireworks most Americans enjoy, Reagan Sailors enjoyed something not many get the chance to see. As the sun set on the endless blue horizon, beautiful red and orange light blanketed the peaceful clouds and sky above. At that moment Ronald Reagan fired off a deafening barrage of flares 50 caliber and tracer rounds bounced off the ocean, echoed by the ships behind her firing off their own displays. Muzzle flashes and projectiles filled the sky.
Finally at the end of the night, as the day wound down, Morale Welfare and Recreation projected a movie in hangar bay three. Groups of Sailors sat down in chairs or stretched out on mats to watch, relaxed, bellies stuffed and smiles plastered on their faces.
The stress of being forward-deployed and away from family can sometimes seem overwhelming, but on this day they were lightened by Ronald Reagan’s celebration of the day America declared her independence from Great Britain.