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Yuma's VMA-211 returns from deployment

By Cpl. Laura A. Mapes | | September 3, 2009

Approximately 80 Marines and sailors with Marine Attack Squadron 211 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 were greeted with open arms Aug. 29, 2009, upon their return from a seven-month deployment with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

While at sea, the Avengers spent five months aboard the USS Essex, providing offensive air support, reconnaissance and limited air defense during multinational training exercises.

During the deployment the squadron participated in Cobra Gold in Thailand, Balikatan in the Philippines and Talisman Saber 2009 in Australia.

“I enjoyed traveling to all the places,” said Cpl. Phillip Belanger, VMA-211 airframes mechanic. “It kept me moving and kept my mind off other things.”

Family and friends were more than eager to reunite with their loved ones on the station flight line outside VMA-211’s hangar.

“I’m feeling excitement, nervousness and happiness all at once,” said Laura Willoughby, wife of Lance Cpl. Ian Willoughby, a MALS-13 avionics technician. “The hardest part was the first and last month, because they leave and then there’s that anticipation.”

The families who remained behind were not the only ones to feel the stress of this deployment.

“I’m just glad to get home to my boy and my wife,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Cook, VMA-211 maintenance controller.

“It feels great to be back in Yuma. The stability of our unit being back together and Marines reuniting with their families is the best part about being back here,” said Sgt. Hunter Horsley, VMA-211 power line mechanic. “The constant moving back and forth from ship to land was difficult. It all went smoothly, but it was pretty difficult.”

Stress didn’t stop with the operations. Marines, homesick and missing their families, found some comfort during the busiest times during the deployment.

“It was pretty difficult ... just seeing pictures, but this is great. Words can’t describe it,” said Belanger, whose 4-month-old daughter, Jaden, was born while he was on deployment. “Being on the boat while she was born was so hard. You can’t imagine it until it happens to you.”

“It was kind of surreal. They were handing me this baby and I was crying because I was happy and because he couldn’t be here,” said Belanger’s wife, Crissi. “It was hard, but then again, I signed up for just as much as he did.”

The squadron’s next deployment is scheduled for fall 2010.

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