INDIAN OCEAN (Oct. 15, 2015) – Today, the Royal Court of King Neptune will convene to test the mettle of uninitiated crew members, or pollywogs, and decide who is worthy of joining the time-honored fraternity of seafarers known as “shellbacks.”
The ceremony of “Crossing the Line” is a tradition that predates the U.S. Navy and is shared by several nations including the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Russia.
It is an initiation rite in which Sailors and Marines, nicknamed pollywogs or ‘wogs,’ who cross the equator for the first time, must be cleansed of their “slime” and prove themselves before an assembly of the initiated to earn the right to call themselves trusty shellbacks.
The shellbacks are traditionally led by their most senior member who, for the duration of the ceremony, is bestowed the honorary title of Neptunus Rex.
“Sailors of the past used it as they crossed the equator to test the worthiness of their crew,” said Master Chief Damage Controlman Mark Geer, the event coordinator and a shellback since 1992. “It’s a day of camaraderie and events that both shellbacks and pollywogs should enjoy. It’s a day of fun to relax, break the ice and the monotony. It’s good old-fashioned Navy fun.”
Not wanting to ruin the surprise for the anxious wogs, Geer could neither confirm nor deny that the wogs might get cooled off with one or two sprays of water.
TR is prepared for a cleansing today, with approximately 3,100 hopeful wog volunteers striving to earn the right to stand among their shellback shipmates.
To prove their worth, wogs had the opportunity to perform last night in a talent show in front of the Royal Court, and today they will face about eight challenges.
After all is said and done, each wog will stand in front of Neptunus Rex and face trial. The Royal Court includes a Defense Council and Sea Lawyer who will debate before Neptunus Rex to decide if a wog is fit to be named a shellback. Today, the title of Royal Sea Lawyer belongs to Senior Chief Machinist’s Mate Chad Craycraft, a shellback since 1999.
“After everyone finishes the challenges, they have to stand before Neptunus Rex. I try to convince him of why they should not be shellbacks, and the Defense Council attempts to prove to him that they should,” said Craycraft. “Neptunus Rex will decide if they are worthy.”
Craycraft felt that being a shellback was more than worth the challenges faced to get there.
“It’s a status in the Navy,” he said. “It says you’ve been on deployment, you’ve done the time and you’ve crossed those lines. It’s like going up in rank.”
Like any long-standing tradition, the crossing the line ceremony has adapted to the ever-changing nature of the Navy. The ceremony is a morale-boosting affair designed to encourage Sailors out of their comfort zones and build teamwork.
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (handling) Airman Andrew Sheffield is one of the wogs set to stand before Neptunus Rex today.
“I think it will be fun. We have to wear shorts and a white t-shirt, so I know it’s going to be very messy,” said Sheffield. “Being a shellback for me is an awesome thing to say I did in the Navy.”
From wooden galleons with wind in their sails to aircraft carriers with nuclear reactors, the tradition of crossing the line has remained a badge of pride for Sailors and Marines. No matter how difficult, awkward, or sometimes silly the task set before them, it shows that the men and women who brave the seas far from home have it in them to rise to any challenge and that no place is too far away.
Today, the crew will prove they carry the same spirit, and by the power bestowed in Neptunus Rex, be welcomed as trusty shellbacks.
Theodore Roosevelt is the flagship of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group
(TRCSG), which is composed of Carrier Strike Group 12, Carrier Air Wing 1, Destroyer Squadron 2 staff, the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) and the guided-missile destroyers USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81), USS Farragut (DDG 99) and USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98).
Roosevelt is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations as part of a worldwide deployment en route to their new home port in San Diego to complete a three-carrier homeport shift.
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