RED LODGE — Six crew members from the USS Billings stopped in Red Lodge on Saturday to take in the scenic views offered by the Beartooth Pass and march in the Fourth of July parade.
“You’re supposed to join the Navy and see all of the coasts, not mostly inland. But this was absolutely wonderful," said Jesse Silcox, a mineman first class on the USS Billings.
Red Lodge is about 2,200 miles away from the crew's usual station with their ship in Jacksonville, Florida. The trip to Red Lodge was part of a weekend of touring and attending Independence Day Celebrations for the USS Billings crew. The trip to the Treasure State is the first time five of the six crew members have been to Montana.
“This is the furthest I’ve been from the ocean in 11 years," said Silcox.
During their trip up the pass, they experienced elevations of 9,000 feet, saw breathtaking views and a bit of wildlife. But the snow in the mountains provided the most entertainment.
“There was a snowball fight. Our photographer is from New Orleans and he’s never seen snow before, so he went and did snow angels, and he was just having a blast," said Commander Jeffrey Gerring, USS Billings executive officer.
Silcox was born and raised in Jacksonville. He said he had never seen the snow outside of the winter months before.
“Seeing snow in the middle of July. I’ve never seen snow in the middle of July. Just the views, absolutely wonderful. I’ve never seen nothing like it before in my life," Silcox said.
Montana has been growing on some members of the crew. Silcox said he thought to retire to Montana even before he stepped off the plane in Billings.
“When we flew in I was like, ‘this is it.’ I didn’t even need to see anything. Before we did the Beartooth Pass drive and all that I was like, ‘Yep, this is the place for me, this is going to be home,’” Silcox said.
After the drive up the pass, the crew marched in the Red Lodge Fourth of July parade. They received plenty of waves and attention, dressed in their bright white uniforms.
Wherever the crew traveled in the state, they received a warm Montana welcome. Gerring said on the walk back to the hotel from the Billings Mustangs game on Friday, people made sure to thank the crew for their service.
"We were laughing about it because as we walk around Florida, everybody is used to the Navy down there. Nobody really pays any attention to us. Oh, it’s just another sailor. But we went to the Billings Mustangs game last night and when we walked back to our hotel, Cars were honking their horns the whole way back, rolling down their windows and yelling, ‘thank you for your service.’ Everybody feels like we’ve just been really appreciated. It’s really special. The people of Billings and Montana are just really hard-working, humble people. You really feel their patriotism when you’re here. It’s an amazing experience," Gerring said.