Thursday, September 30, 2004

U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard takes Norway by storm

Photos courtesy of U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard

Members of the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard, led by Lt. Larry Green Jr., perform during this year's Norwegian Military Tattoo in Oslo, Norway.

U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard members perform a cubicle carnage drill during this year's Norwegian Military Tattoo held Sept. 7-12 in Oslo, Norway.
The U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard took part in an elaborate Tattoo experience, Sept.7-12, and it didn't involve permanent body ink.

But performing at the 2004 Norwegian Military Tattoo did leave an indelible mark on its members.

It is one of that country's most popular and spectacular entertainment events.

The drill team and color guard shared the spotlight - as well as applause and rave reviews - with other elite ceremonial units from around the globe.

"This was a great opportunity to promote ourselves internationally," said Lt. Larry C. Green Jr., 2nd Division Officer, U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard, Naval District Washington (NDW) and drill team officer during the Norwegian Military Tattoo. "The organizers invite different services from the U.S military every two years ... our next rotation will be in 2012. So this is rare ... it was an opportunity of a lifetime."

The biannual show is the biggest indoor event in Norway and draws multinational crowds of military music fans.

This year marked its 10th anniversary and around 20,000 people turned out for the rousing band and precision drill performances.

The Crown Prince of Norway and the Minister of Defense were among the enthusiastic spectators.

And the Guard's drill team appeared to be a crowd favorite.

"It was excellent getting such a huge reaction from the crowd," said Seaman Matthew Esper, U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard and drill team member.

"They wouldn't stop cheering for us. The producers made us go to the next move to try and stop the applauding. They were pounding the bleachers and chanting "U.S.A, U.S.A!"

The members of the Ceremonial Guard - considered to be one of the most prestigious U.S. Navy units - were handpicked to appear at the Spektrum arena in Oslo.

They joined a stellar lineup that also featured the U.S. Navy band, the King's Guard band and drill team, the Royal Norwegian Navy band, the Finnish Guard band and the Berlin Police motorcycle display team.

The Guard is the public face of the Navy due to the integral part they play in prominent ceremonies around the nation's capital.

But in Norway, they were able to showcase their close-order drill routine in a more theatrical setting.

"Ninety-five percent of our performances are routine. We do funerals, wreathlayings and arrivals day-in and day-out. This was an opportunity for us to do something different in the way that we showoff our skills. Professionalism was key. It was an experience we'll never forget," said Green.

Being in a foreign setting was also a strong motivational force for many Guard members.

"I thought that we really had to impress the people over there. Simply because they've never seen us perform before. People around D.C. see us on a regular basis during the summer," said Esper.

As well as sharing the Tattoo spotlight, the Ceremonial Guard rubbed shoulders with their international counterparts back stage and behind the scenes. They shared quarters with Norwegian service members at the King's Barracks, Oslo and some lasting friendships were formed.

"A lot of us are still keeping in contact with the guys from over there. We hung out with them for a week, so we got to know each other really well," said Airman Apprentice, Brian Cortez, U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard and drill team member.

And the tour wasn't all work and no play. They headed out on the town and turned into camera-toting tourists.

For many of the Guard members this was their first trip overseas. And by all accounts the natives were extremely friendly, going out of their way to make them feel welcome. The overwhelmingly positive reaction - on stage and off - left a lasting impression and some are touting Norway as a top international destination.

"Everyone speaks English ...the people are really laid back. I think that "No worries" is their national expression. For anyone that gets the chance, go to Norway. I would definitely go back," said Esper.

But no overseas experience would be complete without some minor culture and currency shocks. The U.S. Dollar/Euro exchange rate caused speculation that Big Macs were up around the $20 mark. There was also some amusement about bicycles being King of the Road in Oslo. And despite the widespread use of English, when it came to food, there was still plenty of room for misunderstanding.

"We went into a convenience store to buy a bag of chips, but you can't read what's on the label. So you have to try and figure it out. They had a bunch of weird flavors too," said Cortez

Suspicion has it that the flavor in question was pickled herring - a local delicacy. The Guard's trip to the Norwegian Military Tattoo was rated as a great success at every level. The kudos earned have thrown open the door to more opportunities to perform around the world.

"Through (the quality of) our performances and our professionalism, we secured invitations to the Edinburgh Tattoo and the 2005 Swedish Tattoo.

"There will be a lot more trips planned internationally. This trip has laid that groundwork for the U.S. Ceremonial Guard," said Green.