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U.S. Marines observe Thai Veteran's Day celebration in Chiang Mai during Cobra Gold 2011

By Gunnery Sgt. Cindy Fisher | | February 3, 2011

Seven U.S. Marines, in Chiang Mai, Kingdom of Thailand, for Exercise Cobra Gold 2011, attended a Thai Veterans Day celebration at Kawila Army Camp Feb. 3, 2011.

At the camp, home to the Royal Thai Army’s 33rd Military Circle, hundreds of Thai local civilians, service members and veterans gathered for the celebration. Included in the crowd was a small contingent of U.S. veterans with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12074, based in Chiang Mai, and the seven Marines, all with III Marine Expeditionary Force.

As the U.S. Marines wandered through the crowd before the ceremony, they talked with the VFW veterans, meet Thai service members and ate Thai food. Some Thais also pinned red poppies to the Marines’ shirts to signify their military status.

The red poppy is a tradition the Thai military adopted from the British military which uses the poppy to honor its service members’ sacrifices, explained retired U.S. Army Maj. Mike Holmes, VFW Post 12074 press service officer. Holmes, a Vietnam veteran, served four years in the Marine Corps before completing his service in the Army.

The Marines then gathered with others for front row seats to watch the Thai Veterans Day ceremony. During the ceremony, which included speeches by Thai military dignitaries, ten Buddhist monks offered blessings to Thai veterans and the Thai military.

The spicy Thai food and rhythmic Buddhist chants marked this event as a vastly different from the way Americans celebrate Veterans Day, said Lance Cpl. Colby Carson, an intelligence analyst from Kansas City, Kansas, with III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF.

“I wasn’t really expecting the monks to be praying for so long,” said Carson said of the more than 20 minutes of chanting done by the monks during the ceremony.

“It was really cool seeing a different type of ceremony for the veterans as opposed to just fireworks and a cake cutting,” which is how American mark their Veterans Day, Carson said.

“(Marines) are really big on our own traditions so it was good getting to see the traditions of another culture,” Carlson said.

Cpl. Jordan Adames, a signal intelligence communication specialist from Philadelphia, also with III MHG, said he too had never been to anything like this before but that it was a good experience.

The ending of the ceremony, in which the senior monk flicked water onto the audience as a blessing was a surprise for him, Adames said.

The monk had worked his way to the back of the crowd and moved back to the front, still flicking water, and some drops hit Adames in the back of the head.

“It caught me off guard but at least I am blessed,” he said with a smile.

Attending the ceremony was a unique perspective into the Thai culture, said Lance Cpl. Jonathon Reuter, a signal intelligence communication specialist from Portland, Ore., with 3rd Marine Division, III MEF.

“I just wish I spoke Thai so I could better understand what was going on,” Reuter said.

Having the active duty Marines at the ceremony with them was a special honor for the U.S. veterans with VFW Post 12074, said retired U.S. Marine Maj. Pat Webb, the VFW’s District 5 quartermaster.

Living in Thailand, “we don’t see a lot of active duty service members,” Webb said.

Having active duty Marines at the ceremony with them was a great experience, he said.

“It was a chance to reconnect with today’s generation of military,” he said.

It’s a reconnection between the VFW veterans and active duty he hopes will continue every time service members are in Thailand for Cobra Gold, he said.

Cobra Gold 2011 is a regularly scheduled multinational training exercise designed to promote regional peace and security. The seven participating nations are Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, Republic of Korea and the U.S. The exercise will consist of a staff exercise, field training exercise events and numerous humanitarian civic assistance projects throughout Thailand.

This is the 30th year for this regionally significant exercise.

For more information about Cobra Gold 2011, visit its website at www.marines.mil/cobragold2011 or its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/exercisecobragold.

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