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Photo by Sgt. Matt Epright

Marines rock the boat

8 Dec 2007 | Sgt. Matt Epright

While it doesn't quite hold the drama of your typical "bands break up and reforms years later to make super-group" music story, the story of the Marine band on the USS Ponce is still just as exciting.

 After all, how many of those super-groups can say they were formed in dank, lower decks of a warship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?

 Such is the case for "Lower-V," the all-Marine band aboard the Ponce made up of Marines from Lima Company and Bravo Battery, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).


 It started with Staff Sergeant Christopher Honold, from the MEU's Assault Amphibious Vehicle Platoon, playing guitar in the Ponce's lower-v, a section of the ship near the well deck used for vehicle and equipment storage.

 His playing attracted spectators, something Honold says he can understand.

 "If I hear somebody playing, I have to go check it out," said Honold, who is originally from Hot Springs, Ark. "It's my passion in life."

 That passion radiated with Cpl. Joe Phillips, from 3rd Platoon, and Cpl. Justin Smith, from Weapons Platoon. Each of them followed the siren sound of the music and found themselves joining in.

 "I just heard music playing down in the well deck and I walked down there," said Smith, a native of Greensboro, Md. "I just grabbed the bass and started playing."

 Phillips and Honold share the duties of lead guitar and all three of them take turns on vocals.


 The way they stumbled on to their drummer, Lance Cpl. Andrew Conte, is a similar story of chance.

 The band had been having issues with finding a drummer.

 "There for a while, I was lead guitarist and drummer," said Phillips, a Knoxville, Tenn., native.

 One day, while the group was playing in their accustomed location, Conte walked up and asked to play on the drums.

 "Smith tells him, 'Yeah, just don't break them,'" said Phillips. "We just thought he was some kid that just wanted to beat on the drums a little bit."

 Conte, a Pittsburg native, would quickly put that notion to rest.

 "He sits down and just starts going away at it," said Phillips. "After that, Smith walks up to him and says, 'Hey, you know you're in our band now right?'"


 When they finally had the full group together, Lower-V decided they needed to do more than just play the same old cover songs.

 It started with Honold just strumming his guitar during a jam session.

 "Corporal Phillips over here just starts spitting out words and just singing to it," said Honold. "We all kind of liked it and just went from there."

 Honold said the first night they stayed up the whole night through until they finished the song.

 "We all got pretty excited about that," said Honold.

 That night was just the first of many.

 "The flood gates just opened after that," said Phillips. "Just constant, song after song, every night, like no problem.

 Phillips added that they try not to limit their music to a particular genre because they all come from different musical backgrounds.

 "Staff Sergeant Honold, he's more of an old-school kind of rock. I'm more of a blues guitarist. Smith is more of a new-age kind of rock. So, we just kind of blend everything together and try to create our own sound," he said.

 He added that the driving motivation behind the music they write is their fellow Marines.

 "When we're down there writing stuff, we try to do it so that we can pull everyone in the MEU into what we're writing and make them like it and make them feel a little bit more at home," Phillips said.


 Lower-V rocks the boat during port calls, steel-beach picnics and even after underway resupply missions.

 Some of the officers make a point to bring the band out whenever possible to try to boost morale for troops a long way from home.

 Some, like BLT 3/8 commanding officer Lt. Col. Matthew St. Clair, even make a special point of visiting the ship to hear Lower-V play.

 "We only planned on playing three songs - just two covers and one original," said Honold. "We ended up playing for 45 minutes."

 The Bravo Battery executive officer, 1st Lt. Matthew Brunoehler, joins the group for some of their requested gigs.

 "Usually they just like to have me singing," he said. "I sing for them a lot."

 Brunoehler says the band is willing to play as often as possible for their own morale as well as that of the rest of the ship.

 "I don't know how much of an effect we really have on them, but we enjoy ourselves quite a bit," he said. "It's good for us. Hopefully, it's good for them."

22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit