MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
More than 1,000 Marines and sailors from 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment arrived to the Combat Center Friday and Aug. 16, 2008, after a seven-month deployment to Al Anbar Province, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
During their deployment, 2/24 combined their efforts with Iraqi Security Forces and conducted combined security, stability and supported operations in the Fallujah-Ramadi corridor to neutralize insurgents, which enabled a legitimate, self-reliant and secure government to exist, said Maj. Jeffrey D. Strey, 2/24’s battalion executive officer.
The reserve unit from the Midwestern United States was welcomed back by Official Huggers at every bus, greeting and hugging everyone who wanted a hug.
“I feel it is important for [Official Huggers] to be here for these Marines,” said Toinette Ishee, a volunteer Official Hugger. “They don’t have the support from seeing their family and friends when they return like active duty Marines have.”
Family members wait until the service members fly back to their home state to welcome them home.
“The Marines and sailors of 2/24 executed a difficult counterinsurgency mission and were very successful,” said Strey, a Madison, Wis., native. “Across the board, 2/24 earned the respect and confidence of all who come into contact with them.
“This includes both Coalition forces and Iraqi Security Forces in addition to the Iraqi people,” he continued.
As soon as the Marines got off the buses they were placed in formation and told to turn in all serialized gear, such as weapons, flak jackets and their small arms protective insert, body armor plates.
“All of this serialized gear gets sent back to the Midwest to our home training centers by way of bonded cargo,” said Strey. “This eliminates the transportation and security concerns as the different companies arrive at the different airports and are greeted by their families.
“They are able to go straight home once secured and not back to the drill center for hours and hours of weapons turn-in and accountability,” he added.
As the Marines and sailors stood in line to turn in gear they talked about what they were going to do when they got home. Many of them were excited to eat at a favorite restaurant or go to a certain bar, but Cpl. Andrew Evenson, Company G team leader, had a different yet simple plan for when he got home.
“I don’t care what we do,” said Evenson, a Fort Atkinson, Wis., native. “As long as I spend time with my friends and family I will be happy to be home.”
2/24 is based out of Chicago, although all the companies have different Home Training Centers in different states. Headquarters and Service Company is stationed in Chicago; Company G is from Madison, Wis.; Company F is from Milwaukee; Company E is stationed in Des Moines, Iowa; and Weapons Company is stationed in Waukegan, Ill.
The reservists will stay aboard the Combat Center until Saturday when they will return to their home state.
“The battalion will take a few days to rest and recover with family before returning to their respective Home Training Centers,” said Strey.