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Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany


Readiness Enabler for Operational Forces  •
TAL-A-DAY-GA! WHOOOOOOOOOOO!

By Gunnery Sgt. Sean Wright | | April 26, 2001

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TALLADEGA, Ala., -- A small platoon of Headquarters Battalion volunteers deployed to Talladega Superspeedway here Friday and survived a weekend that many might say rivals Mardi Gras, Carnival and New Year's Eve celebrations all rolled into one. Twenty-five leathernecks worked to raise money for the enlisted ball during a weekend full of racing that climaxed with Bobby Hamilton taking the checkered flag in Sunday's Talladega 500. Total attendance, which includes ticketed attendees and those in designated areas adjacent to the track, estimates soared as high as 250,000 for Sunday by some sources. Manning a concession stand and food and beverage carts just outside the track where race teams' souvenir transporters sell merchandise, the Marines sold more than $15,000 in food and beverages that resulted in raising $1,575 for the enlisted ball, according to Capt. John Fleming, Headquarters Battalion executive officer. The national vending corporation that has rights to the track offers a portion of the weekend's sales back to nonprofit organizations that agree to provide workers for various locations in and around the racetrack. Cpl. Michael Gronholz, a Grapevine, Texas, native who works as a computer programmer in the communications section here and longtime volunteer for various base activities, initialized the groundwork for this event. Friday morning brought a lot of work for the volunteers because several vehicles had to be prepped and packed for the weekend. 'Marine-style' billeting at the track's infield campground required substantial logistical planning and support. Following a quick safety brief, the convoy departed the exchange parking lot shortly after 8 a.m. After a four-hour trek through rural Georgia and Alabama, the convoy arrived at the site of what is considered the largest and fastest motor-sports complex in the world. Towering grandstands encompass the 2.66-mile tri-oval. Several Marines, many seeing a racetrack for the first time, were greatly impressed by the size and appearance of the speedway. A quick stop at the Hall of Fame preceded the journey through the tunnels beneath the 33-degree banked turn four and into the infield campground. Once the infield 'command post' was established, Marines headed to the grandstands to watch Winston Cup qualifying for the 43-car field for Sunday's race. Wide-eyed Marines watched as drivers tackled the steeply banked track one at a time. The faster of two timed laps determined the starting positions for the race. For Cpl. Richard Musgrave, military police investigator, Provost Marshal's Office, a first time National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing event attendee, the spectacle was amazing. "Just being here and seeing how huge this facility is and how steep the banks are is incredible," said the Olney, Md., native. "I never imagined anything like this, and it seems so different than what you see on television." Once Stacy Compton claimed the top starting spot for the race, Musgrave and the other Marines returned to the campground where they popped up tents and fired the grill that would be the main source of cooking throughout the weekend. After dinner and some liberty in the extremely festive infield, the Marines later turned in for what they thought would be a good night's rest before a demanding workday. A good night's rest would prove to be difficult. Throughout the night, and morning hours, one particularly boisterous race fan, cried "Where we at? TAL- A-DAY-GA! WHOOOOOOOOO!" Just when many Marines assumed the race fanatic had dozed off for the evening, he'd again let loose with his cry. Interrupted sleep didn't hinder the Marines from facing a very early morning with proper motivation. With the repeated Talladega cheer still ringing in their ears, the chant was quickly adopted as the battle cry for the weekend. Within minutes Marines confirmed that 25 devildogs' strong lungs and command voices overwhelm an entire campground of ordinary race fans. After a lengthy walk to the shower house, a journey the Marines would make dozens of times, it was time for some breakfast bars then off to the vending commitment. Within minutes, Marines scurried in all directions and soon began selling refreshments. Saturday's events at the track included NASCAR Winston Cup's final practice, known as 'Happy Hour,' Busch Grand National series Subway 300 and the International Race of Champions' second race of the season. The combination of these three exciting events brought larger-than-usual crowds and plenty of demanding customers for the Marines Ð but it was just a warm up for Sunday. Although vending operations were the primary mission -- fans never lost fact that these vendors were U.S. Marines. This couldn't have been more evident than when a mother, who had lost her son, was offered assistance. Within an hour, the child had been located without hindering vending operations. A Marine even escorted the mother for the reunion with her son. Despite a grueling day of work, most Marines still made an effort to join the fun Saturday night with thousands of other campers, traditional recreational vehicle and camper owners and the savvy owners of the ever-popular race bus. Hundreds of dedicated race fans own school buses with makeshift observation platforms, some several stories high, to better facilitate watching a race from an infield that is lower than several locations of the track. Food, music, a parade of vehicles loaded with fans and other Talladega traditions offered an atmosphere that was unique to many of the Marines. Musgrave, who admits he took part in some of the mayhem, said he really enjoyed the festival-like surroundings. "This is what I call a relaxed field environment," Musgrave said. "Getting to spend time with Marines around a campfire and enjoying this type of partying crowd is incredible. I never imagined how dedicated these fans are." Sunday's event challenged the Marines with more than 10 hours of serving a sellout crowd a variety of foods and beverages. An exhausted group of Marines spent a final night in the now almost-vacant infield, enjoying camaraderie around the campfire before their return to Albany early Monday. The event was a success, according to Fleming. "This was like a real-world operation," said Fleming, a Columbus, Texas, native. "In any operation, mission accomplishment and troop welfare are a must. This was no different. "Thanks to some outstanding planning, superb leadership and tremendous judgement by each volunteer, we made some money for the ball, had a good time and brought everyone home safely," he said. "Everyone knew we were Marines, and few will forget us for quite some time. I know the lady who lost her son never will." Musgrave perhaps summed it up best. "We spent time together as Marines," Musgrave said. "In addition, we had a lot of fun and truly did a good thing to help other Marines enjoy our traditions during the ball. It was good to go," he said.
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