An intense unit workout aboard the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS America on the morning of March 14th served as more than just the average physical training session for the Marines of Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines (BLT 1/5), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The workout, referred to as a ‘Murph,’ afforded the Marines the opportunity to honor their fallen brothers and sisters – in this case, specifically in memory of two recently deceased Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) Marine Raiders, Gunnery Sgt. Diego Pongo and Capt. Moises Navas.
Pongo, who served as a sniper team leader with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment on deployment to Afghanistan in 2004, joined the Corps in 2004 as a rifleman before earning the title of Marine Raider in 2011. Navas also enlisted in 2004, achieving the rank of sergeant before commissioning through the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program. After rigorous training, Navas was selected to become a Marine Raider in 2016, and spent the last four years as a team commander and company executive officer in 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion.
The two Marine Raiders died on March 8th, 2020 after being mortally wounded by enemy small-arms fire during a mission to eliminate an Islamic State stronghold in Ninewah Province, Iraq. Their valiant sacrifice in combat inspired the BLT Marines to dedicate their morning several days later to completing the challenge in their honor.
For Staff Sgt. Michael Staten, the challenge had an added significance. Staten, a platoon sergeant with 1/5, previously served at 2nd Marine Raider Battalion and personally knew both Marines.
“The entire Raider community is inspiring,” Staten said. “Capt. Navas and Gunnery Sgt. Pongo were no exception. Raiders do leadership right.”
The challenge, which is named after Lt. Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL who gave the ultimate sacrifice during a mission in Afghanistan, required the Marines to run a mile, followed by 100 pullups, 200 pushups, and 300 squats, prior to running a final mile to finish the workout.
The Marines who completed the Murph challenge pushed their bodies to the limit, wearing plate carriers with front and back ballistic plates to simulate the weight service members would have on their shoulders in combat.
“The least we could do for them is spill a little sweat for those that spilled all of their blood for us.” Staten said.
As a leader, Staten feels that Marines and Sailors need to know that what they do is much more than a typical 9 to 5.
“We are a family, a brotherhood of warriors,” Staten said. “Nothing is about the individual. I wanted my Marines and Sailors to know that a blow to one of us is a blow to all of us.”
America, flagship of the America Expeditionary Strike Group, 31st MEU team, is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
Story by Lance Cpl. Kolby Leger, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit