MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
Numerous cars boast festively painted windows, banners are hung outside barracks, units and even the exterior fence of the air station. It’s evident; Marines are coming home.
A second wave of Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 returned home Sept. 29, and were greeted by friends and family at the Sonoran Pueblo here.
This wave of 136 Marines followed the first group of 122 Marines who returned home Sept. 25.
While in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Sandsharks constructed 22 helicopter landing zones and refueled approximately 18,000 aircraft over the course of their nearly seven-month deployment, said MWSS-371 Support Company’s Maj. Van White, company commander.
“The Instant Response Platoon reacted to more than 80 cases of unexploded ordnance or improvised explosive devices,” continued White. “The Engineer Operations Company also built a rifle range for the Iraqi Army.”
With their support deployment over, the Marines were just relieved to be home, a feeling shared by the friends and family members who awaited their loved ones’ return outside the Sonoran Pueblo.
“I can finally watch the news again,” said Kim Smith, who traveled from Minneapolis to see her son, Lance Cpl. Andrew Smith, a military policeman.
“We had to be here when (MWSS-371) returned, after everything they’ve done,” added Smith’s father, Dave.
Dora Powers waited anxiously for her husband, Cpl. Sam Powers, a military policeman. “This was his first deployment and I really didn’t want him to go, but he wanted to, so I supported that. More power to him,” she said. The couple were married in January and are moving into base housing soon. “I just got to Yuma,” Dora added.
The buses pulled up one at a time to loved ones, friends and family members who waved signs and surged forward to greet their returning Marines.
“I don’t have to look at quite as much sand,” said Smith, laughing, as he embraced his fiancé, Priscilla Carter.
Cpl. Michael Dixon, Engineer equipment operator, was enthusiastically greeted by his wife, Jennifer, and his parents, Billy and Pam upon disembarking the bus. Dixon braced himself as his wife, eager to see him, weaved through the crowd and leapt into his arms.
“I’m just looking forward to getting back to a normal, everyday life,” said Dixon, smiling, with an arm around his wife.
“When I heard he was getting deployed I remember just sitting down on the sidewalk and crying,” said Jennifer. “Even though we talked so frequently, it was still hard when he was gone, simply because he wasn’t here."
The communication between the Dixons eased their collective minds and made the deployment a bit easier.
“I was worried, but as long as I knew he was calling Jennifer, it helped,” said Pam. “My mother was lucky if she got a letter from my father every five months during World War II,” she added. “We were upset if we didn’t get a phone call a week. We just wanted it to be over.”
“I enjoyed the chow most over there,” said Powers. “No, really. It was great. We had surf and turf every Wednesday. Now I’m just looking forward to going to eat in a restaurant, in real clothes.”
Staff Sgt. Donovan Cruz, supply administration and operations clerk, stepped off the bus to five tiny girls, clad in pink, running to him followed closely by his wife, sister and mother-in-law.
“I’m so glad to be back,” he exclaimed, as his two daughters, god-daughter, and two nieces clung to him. “My favorite thing about getting home is right now -- getting all my hugs and kisses.”
Married Marines weren’t the only ones who had surprises waiting for them as they got off the buses.
Thanks to the Key Volunteer Network, single Marines living in the barracks had toiletry bags waiting for them in their rooms upon arrival.
“When the married Marines get off the bus they are treated like rock stars, while the single Marines get left out and just trudge back to the barracks. So by having these kits ready, it helps their transition back go more smoothly because they don’t have someone to do these things for them,” said co-Key Volunteer Coordinator, Rachel Dhaliwal.
“We wanted to show them that they’re appreciated too, and that the KVN isn’t just a network for married Marines,” she added.
The third and final wave of MWSS-371 Marines is slated to return Saturday, which will conclude the squadron’s latest deployment.