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Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, also known as the “Rhinos,” unload gear from the back of a cargo truck before their fellow Rhinos return to Victory Field Oct. 22. MWSS-374 returned from their deployment to Iraq in two waves after spending seven months supporting air operations, and conducting airfield maintenance and convoy operations. The second half of the squadron arrived at the Combat Center early Saturday morning.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Nicholas M. Dunn

Homecoming levy breaks, three units return from deployments

28 Oct 2008 | Lance Cpls. Nicholas M. Dunn and M. C. Nerl

The past two weeks marked the arrival of multiple Combat Center units returning home from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 kicked off the flood of homecomings Oct. 22 when the first half of its Marines and sailors arrived at Victory Field to a throng of friends, family and fellow service members.

“They just did an outstanding job,” said Gunnery Sgt. Kristian Mayes, the MWSS-374 family readiness officer. “For a unit to go over and come back without any casualties speaks for itself. It speaks for the type of leadership they have.”

During their seven-month tour in Iraq, the squadron was responsible for supporting air missions, conducting airfield operations and maintenance, and running convoy operations in their vicinity, added the Tombstone, Ariz., native.

The Marines and sailors were just as excited to be home as their loved ones were to see them all come back safe.

“This feels great,” said Sgt. Valo Gonzalez, an MWSS-374 weather forecaster. “I haven’t felt this good in a very long time. I felt like I was missing three parts of me the whole time I was gone.”

Gonzalez was greeted at Victory Field by his wife, Jenny, his 9-year-old daughter Sienna, and his 4-year-old son Corylus.

“It almost doesn’t feel like he’s been gone for seven months, to be honest,” said Jenny. “As soon as he comes home, he fits right back in perfectly – like a puzzle piece.”

The second wave of MWSS-374 Marines and sailors returned to the Combat Center Saturday.

Battery M, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment also returned to the Combat Center Saturday at Del Valle Field.

During their deployment to Taqqadum and Fallujah, Iraq, Btry. M provided artillery support to Regimental Combat Team 1, said Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Prado, the battery gunnery sergeant. They also conducted convoy security operations throughout Al Anbar Province.

“Our busiest missions were providing security for explosive ordinance disposal,” said the Pleasant Hill, Calif., native. “Those were the most frequent and dangerous.

“All the Marines knew what they were doing because of the extensive preparation we went through before the deployment,” he added.

Pardo said other than minor noncombat-related injuries, Btry. M had no Marines killed or wounded during their deployment.

Along with their fellow 3/11 Marines, friends and families of the returning service members were also present at Del Valle Field.

Miguel Sosa, father of Cpl. Gabriel Sosa, a diesel mechanic with 3/11’s Btry. M, was one of many who waited for the return of their loved ones.

“We back up our son a lot – this is what he joined to do,” said the Houston native. “We’re 100 percent proud of what he’s done for us. We did miss him while he was gone, but we are still very proud of him.”

The return of the Marines and sailors of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, and their advanced party, culminated the nearly week-long streak of homecomings. They arrived at Victory Field early Tuesday morning, greeted by their loved ones and fellow 2/7 Marines who were wounded in Afghanistan, or made up the battalion’s Remain-Behind Element.

The Marines and sailors of 2/7, along with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., were among the first Marines to deploy to the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in April, as part of a maneuver to battle a resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda presence there.

“Our mission was to train Afghan National Police, which involved a lot of joint patrolling,” said 1st Lt. Mike McNicoll, the Weapons Platoon commander of 2/7’s Co. E. “We also conducted a lot of traditional counterinsurgency operations.

McNicoll, a West Hills, Calif., native, was welcomed home by his wife and twin daughters. They are expecting a third daughter, who will be born in December.

“It’s just nice to be home now and see my kids again,” he said.

The main element of 2/7 will return to the Combat Center the coming weeks after their deployment to Afghanistan.

All the Marines and sailors who returned home will be taking time off to be with their families before they begin training for future operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.


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