Beaufort Marines hold decorating contest in Iraq

More than 200 Beaufort Marines and sailors have a good reason to tap their inner Clark Griswold this Christmas.

Spending this holiday season at Al Asad Airbase in Western Iraq, the Werewolves of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 are in the thick of a Christmas decorating contest, part of a high-stakes competition that will last the duration of the squadron's deployment overseas.

Griswold, portrayed by actor Chevy Chase in the holiday neoclassic, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," has been an inspiration for the Marines this year as they've

decorated their work spaces.

For weeks, six of the squadron's units have been meticulously decorating their workspaces, adorning them with oversize candy canes, Christmas lights and faux snowmen in an effort to win the Commanders Cup and 72 hours of leave upon the Werewolves' return to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort next year.

The Christmas decorating contest is one part of a squadron-wide competition for the Commanders Cup. The Commanders Cup features a number of competitions and contests lasting the duration of the Werewolves' stay at Al Asad.

Despite being deployed in a combat zone for the first time in more than 30 years, the Werewolves are finding ways to celebrate the holidays, while still remaining focused on the mission that brought them to Iraq.

"(On Christmas Day), our minds will travel to family, friends and neighbors, but we will be busy accomplishing the mission of making peace," said the squadron's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Douglas Douds. "We will enjoy a good meal and reflect on the year past and the year ahead. Those thoughts will renew our conviction to accomplish the mission and return home safely to our loved ones."

Deployed since August, several members of the squadrons said there are certain creature comforts left behind in Beaufort that they'll especially miss this Christmas.

"Last year was my first Christmas in Beaufort, and one of the things that me and my wife enjoyed doing the most was just driving around at night and looking at all of the lights on the houses and just walking downtown Beaufort to see all of the decorations," said Lance Cpl. Jason Hipps, one of the squadron's air frames and hydraulics mechanics.

Hipps will spend today on leave in Qatar.

Others found themselves missing their friends, their families and even a few things they didn't anticipate missing about their adopted hometown.

"I will miss seeing my wonderful wife and my kids and spending time with them at our home in Battery Point," said Capt. Neil Brubeck, the squadron's flight officer. "I will miss all of Beaufort this Christmas -- even getting stuck at the swing bridge."