15th MEU News
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Former Ultimate Fighting Championship middle and heavy-weight title holders, Rich Franklin and Tim Sylvia, pose for a picture with a Marine from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit during a morale visit while on an 11-day tour of the Middle East which was sponsored by the Navy's Morale, Welfare and Recreation Program.

Photo by Cpl. Timothy T. Parish

Ultimate fighting stars visit 15th MEU aboard USS Peleliu

13 Sep 2008 | Cpl. Timothy T. Parish

The Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, deployed aboard USS Peleliu (LHA 5), met a few mixed martial artists during a recent morale visit by former Ultimate Fighting Championship middle and heavy-weight title holders Rich Franklin and Tim Sylvia.

As extraordinary as the visit was for the Marines, the fighters considered it a privilege to thank the troops in person.

“I realize that in the UFC we have a huge fan base in the military and they’re big supporters,” said Franklin. “Given the fact that I know I have a lot of fans in the military, there’s part of me that feels like I should have served some time, this is about as close as I can come [to repaying those who serve].”

The nearly 20-hour voyage from the United States to the Arabian Gulf was a bit tiring for the former UFC champs, but the time away from family and friends, not to mention their strict training regimen, was of little consequence given the unique opportunity to visit deployed Marines and sailors, said Franklin.

Franklin, who bore two black-eyes and stitches from a recent fight, did not hesitate at the chance to travel half-way around the world to spend time with deployed Marines and sailors, he explained.

“There is a lot of gratitude on my end for the sacrifices these guys make being over here. There are guys are over here for nine months or a year at a time, so the least I can do is come over here for a week,” said Franklin, who has brothers who served as Marines.

Sylvia agrees. The rigors of non-stop training for frequent bouts does not compare to the sacrifices of Marines who constantly train for combat, according to Sylvia. This was reaffirmed after the fighters watched a combat conditioning workout during a Marine Corps Martial Arts demonstration by Marines with Company G, Battalion Landing Team 2/5, according to Sylvia.

“Those guys are crazy. At the end of practice, after we’ve worked out for an hour, a lot of the conditioning stuff that they do is a lot of the stuff that we do, except we don’t have the guys yelling in our face,” said Sylvia.

Meeting with the Marines and Sailors aboard USS Peleliu gave the fighters a chance to thank the troops, according to Sylvia.

“It’s a little more meaningful [to have] someone in the military at war time over here protecting our country than the average fan. You guys are protecting our rights—protecting our country—allowing me to do everyday what I do with a sense of freedom,” Sylvia said.

The service members who met with Sylvia and Franklin were appreciative of the fighters’ willingness to travel so far to raise the morale of the troops, according to Sgt. Terrel J. Sjostrom, an Intelligence Analyst with the Command Element.

“A lot of people are fans of the UFC and a lot of people watch it on the ship, and it was a really big deal for a lot of people to be able to meet a couple of prominent UFC stars, myself included,” said Sjostrom. “I know that they’re extremely busy. They fight every so often, they’re training non-stop and for them to take a couple weeks out of their busy schedule to visit us just to boost our morale, I think that’s an amazing thing.”

With little time to meet the fighters during the day visit aboard USS Peleliu, the Marines of the 15th MEU lined-up to collect autographs and pictures with Franklin and Sylvia.

“It speaks a lot of themselves and the organization they represent to come out and visit us. It’s good for all involved,” Sjostrom said. “They have the feeling that they did a good thing by coming and raising our morale and we think it’s a really good thing that they took time out of their busy schedule to see us,” said Sjostrom.

The visit was a highlight of the deployment for many of the Marines of the 15th MEU, said Sjostrom, a native of Olympia, Wash.

“It’s a huge boost. For me personally, it’s probably one of the highlights of my deployment. They were genuinely interested in meeting and greeting and interacting with us and they genuinely showed that they cared.”    

The Camp Pendleton, Calif. based 15th MEU is comprised of approximately 2,200 Marines and Sailors and is a forward deployed force in readiness capable of conducting numerous operations, such as Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations, Humanitarian Assistance Operations and a wide range of amphibious missions. The 15th MEU is currently deployed aboard the USS Peleliu (LHA-5), USS Dubuque (LPD-8) and USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52).


15th Marine Expeditionary Unit