MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
More than 160 Marines and sailors marched onto Victory Field Tuesday, where families sporting custom T-shirts and signs cheered and whistled at the prospect of their loved ones returning home from deployment.
Animal Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, returned from their most recent deployment to Fallujah, Iraq, where the unit was responsible for supporting the Iraqi Security Forces, civil reconstruction and the draw-down of American forces in theater, said Maj. Jason Perry, the battalion’s executive officer, and a Flat Rock, N.C., native.
Since Animal Co. was one of the last waves of 1/7 to return home, some supporters at the homecoming had already welcomed their heroes home, but also wanted to greet other friends in the battalion.
Nichole Hurst, wife of Sgt. Jacob Hurst, a machine gunner with Animal Co., sat anxiously on a shaded bench while fellow spouses Paula Smith and Alejandra Hartwell kept her company.
“My husband came back a couple weeks ago and she stayed with me the whole time while I waited for him,” said Smith, wife of Cpl. Andrew Smith, a rifleman with Animal Co., and native of Rowlett, Texas. “Now it’s my turn. It’s nice to have people here supporting you – people you can rely on to keep you calm.”
Hurst said although her husband deployed in 2004, they had no children then and now they have two.
“I’m nervous and excited,” said Hurst, a native of St. Erie, Colo. “You worry a little bit about the readjustments [the children] will have to make, but I’m more excited than nervous.”
One of the Marines who returned to the Combat Center Tuesday, Lance Cpl. Kerry Bartholomew II, was greeted by his family at Victory Field. The 23-year-old Squad Automatic Weapon gunner said he was very thankful and excited to finally be home.
Capt. Ty Moore, the Animal Co. commander, was another Marine who returned home that day. He said his company began their operations out of Combat Outpost Viking, a Marine and ISF camp along a main supply route between Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraq.
“The ISF is at the point now where they have taken the lead and are providing their own security,” said Moore, a Wasilla, Alaska, native.
Staff Sgt. Roger L. Thompson, 1st Platoon commander, deployed with the battalion to Al Anbar Province, Iraq, during the earlier stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom and said much has changed since then.
“I think the biggest change since my last deployment has been the ISF’s willingness to conduct operations on their own,” said Thompson, a Lewisville, Texas, native. “We’ve been able to pull away our involvement more and more as they become more independent.”
Thompson also said he is proud of his Marines for the positive changes they have made in Iraq, which will prepare the country for its sovereignty.
“Marines have been fighting for this since they pushed into Iraq,” he said. “Seeing the ISF working like that is the biggest challenge our Marines have overcome. It’s what the Marines who came before us have fought for.”