DARWIN, NORTHERN TERRITORY, Australia -- Millions of Americans crowd into stadiums each week to watch teams face each other on the gridiron in games of good old-fashioned American football.
A handful of Marines and Sailors gathered Aug. 20 to watch their shipmates take on a team of Australians in a match of rugby, affectionately known down under as “footy.”
A group of servicemembers from 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and Expeditionary Strike Group I, known as the Tarawa Beach Raiders, walked onto the pitch for their first Rugby Union match. The majority of the Tarawa “veterans” had less than two matches experience, one of which was played earlier in the week.
In fact, among the American squad, only a few players had any significant rugby history.
The Beach Raiders played their first match in Darwin against the Royal Australian Air Force Stray Cats. The teams played by “social” rules-- a tamed down version of Rugby Union that focused more on socializing than competing to win.
The Beach Raiders were forced to borrow local players to round out their 15-player lineup since many of the members of their team were unavailable because of training commitments, yet still squeezed out a victory.
With a win under their belts, the Raiders took the pitch against the Darwin University Pirates “C” team. The Raiders were hungry for another triumph, as it was time to see how they would “fare against a real team.” The Raiders soon found they were in for a real match.
While the Raiders lost in the end, two rookies scored their first try, and several veterans stood out. First Lieutenant Douglas “Wack Attack” Wacker, assistant communications officer, 13th MEU (SOC), one of the few experienced backfield players, managed to cover most of the positions as he advanced the ball forward and even made several key tackles, causing the coach to yell, “where are all the forwards at?”
“We have a lot of rookies, which is good because they have the enthusiasm and eagerness out on the pitch, but they don’t have a good feel for the flow of the match,” Wacker, a Seattle native, said. “I find myself having to execute the critical roles of a more veteran player in the back field.”
Lieutenant Colonel Donald “Elvis” Liles, commanding officer, Headquarters Detachment, MEU Service Support Group 13, put his experience to a good use as well in a position that often makes crucial plays.
While they didn’t win, the team’s performance did garner praise from the competition.
“We were impressed with your team's enthusiasm and raw talent and hope that you continue to build the club and keep the love,” said Matt “Chairman of the Bored” Grooby, of the University Pirates.
“Its a great way to (involve) yourself in a local community. It allows you to meet the natives in their natural habitat,” he added.
Part of the tradition of the game is for both teams to come together after the match to trade stories and share in merriment.
“You can never forget about the third-half. Rugby is a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen. True to that statement, the fight is left on the pitch at the final whistle and both teams come together to share in camaraderie and cheer,” Wacker said. “The Aussies were true gentlemen who welcomed us into their family, gave us a great battle on the pitch, taught us a few things, and showed us how to throw a ripping good third-half.”
For more information on the "Fighting 13th" MEU, go to WWW.USMC.MIL/13THMEU.