ROCKLAND, MAINE — The smiles and laughter said it all: lobster and good company makes for a fun time.
More than 25 Marines and sailors from Combat Logistics Regiment 27, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, and the USS San Antonio crew put on their dress uniforms Aug. 2 and disembarked for an afternoon with residents of the Knox Center, a nursing facility for long-term care in Rockland, Maine.
Their task seemed simple – engage the residents and enjoy some freshly cooked, bright red lobster – but what they did not realize is how hard it would be to leave.
“It was an awesome experience,” said Cpl. Patrick Culleton, a field radio operator with Combat Logistics Battalion 22, 2nd MLG. “I spoke with one lady whose name was Margret, but she told me to call her Peggy. I got to know her a little bit, and I gave her my phone number so she can call and talk to me.”
Culleton, who has spent more than three years away from many members of his family, said he knows, from a recent surprise visit to his grandmother who lives near Rockland, how important a friendly face is.
“I know that she is going to have a better day because I went there,” said Culleton, his voice still slightly tight from the experience. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The call to move to the Knox Center’s backyard for lunch came a little too late. Many of the Marines and sailors were already scattered throughout the building. Each one found someone to visit, which made it difficult to rally the group for their main course.
Navy Lt. Tiffany Smith, a chaplain candidate program officer temporarily working with the San Antonio’s crew, finally rounded everyone up.
The center’s staff and volunteers prepared large coolers of lobster, but some of the servicemembers were too preoccupied to notice.
“I didn’t realize that one Marine had not eaten because he was helping a resident,” said Smith, who tried to ensure that everyone was fed before she sat down to eat. “More than anything, that stuck out.”
They helped serve food to the residents, and then donned bibs to fight off the splashing juice of the lobsters. Most had no idea how to properly eat one, but nobody seemed to mind their lobster-eating etiquette.
“They were at the center just sitting down and getting to know the people,” said Smith. “It can get very lonely, and [residents] can get very down. It’s nice to have the sailors and Marines come in and smile, get to know them, learn their names and just have a conversation.”
A few of the residents were reluctant to let the servicemembers leave after lunch. They wanted them to stay, said Smith.
The new friends exchanged hugs and smiles, and then the troops boarded the bus and headed back to the ship where a full agenda waited them.