MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- The advance party of Marine Air Control Squadron 1 returned home May 20, preparing the way for the remainder of the squadron's return Memorial Day weekend.
Approximately 50 personnel, primarily administrative and command elements, were greeted by friends and loved ones as their buses pulled in to the Marine Attack Squadron-211 hangar late in the evening. The remainder of the unit, more than 200 personnel, flew in Memorial Day afternoon.
The unit, which had been integrated with MACS-2 personnel from various air stations on the East Coast, was tasked with two missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom air traffic control and air defense, said Maj. Randy Ross, operations officer.
"We were able to set up air traffic control detachments at the two military bases in Kuwait Al Jaber and Ali Al Salem," he said. "We provided all air traffic control services and took over the entire airspace of Kuwait, which is the first time Marine Corps air traffic control has ever controlled another country's airspace."
For the air defense mission, the unit served as the Southeast sector command and control agency, performing "killbox interdiction" which involves constant bombardment of ground targets and close air support, Ross said. They were responsible for shooting down a SCUD missile and the unit as a whole completed more than 2,000 missions in Southwest Asia.
"The support assets of the command had a very tough job out in the middle of the desert," he said. "The motor transport, supply and other support elements had a hard time because of the location of the command. We had two detachments who went up into and all over Iraq, so they were supporting not only us, but those detachments forward."
If Lance Cpl. Geneva Rapalo, MACS-1 engineers, had known the danger her husband, Sgt. Julio Rapalo, a motor transport operator, had been in, she said it would have driven her to distraction.
"He was driving to Iraq every other day, but he didn't tell me that until about a week ago because he didn't want to scare me," she said. "I missed him terribly, and I wish I could have been out there with him, but he didn't want me out there didn't want me to get hurt. He said it was really bad out there."
The sergeant said he was one of the drivers supporting forward deployed detachments, conducting some long drives between Iraq and Kuwait.
"You have no idea how good it is to be home," he said. "It's great. It's been such a long time, I don't plan to leave the house just spend all my time with my wife."
That sentiment was shared by many of the returning Marines, including Ross, who was met by his wife Debbie, 6-month-old daughter Cora Marie and 8-year-old stepson Rider Lisenbery.
"It's the best feeling I've ever had in my life," he said. "[Cora Marie] was only two months old when I left, and it's good to be home. And I would like to say that I'm very proud of the Marines performance they did a great job over there."
For those families who had to wait a few days for their loved ones to return, the extra time was a chance to finish up last minute tasks, such as nine months of pregnancy. While waiting for her husband to clear customs, Lindsey Hill felt her water begin to break. Although she says she had joked about it happening, it still came as quite a shock. Her husband, 1st Lt. Roger Hill, was rushed through in order to take her to the hospital, where it turned out to be a false alarm.
The flight took the Marines more than 30 hours, at no time of which they were allowed to get off the plane, said Lance Cpl. Mark Schuman, an air radio repairman.
"We had a stop in Italy, and everyone was excited about possibly getting some souvenirs," he said. "When they told us we couldn't get off the plane, it was pretty disappointing."
The Marines supported the Marine Air Ground Task Force, assisting in tracking and calling air strikes on SCUD missiles and missile batteries, Schuman said. He, however, spent a lot of his time doing security and escorting foreign nationals responsible for cleaning their camp.
"The rear security guys deserve a lot of credit," he said. "They made it possible for everyone else to do their job. It's just good to be home now."
Schuman's wife, Tracie, said she kept busy during the deployment by working full-time and going to school full-time.
"It was really hard to concentrate on school while the war was going on," she said. "I was one of those ones who had to watch the news everyday so I could know what was going on. I'm happy to have him home it's lifted a big stress off of me. I've been thinking about this day for a long time."`
The Marines of MACS-1 will take a few days off and be given the chance to take some leave before returning to their duties.