MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif., --
The excitement of the crowd continued to build as someone shouted, “They’re at KFC on the highway.” Families and friends gathered at the Del Valle soccer field Jan. 6-8, 2011, to welcome home the Marines and sailors of Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionalry Unit.
During the last eight months, BLT 1/7 conducted training with allied nations, honed and utilized their amphibious assault skills and conducted humanitarian and disaster relief missions.
“We were able to train together as a battalion to be an amphibious battalion,” said battalion commander Lt. Col. Todd Simmons of the unit’s successful deployment. “The ability to do that really shows the strength and leadership of the NCOs.”
After the Philippines was devasted by Super Typhoon Juan, BLT 1/7 stepped in to provide humanitarian assistance.
“It was gratifying to do be able to help somebody. To train for it and then do good,” Simmons said.
For family members anxiously waiting the return of their Marine, a successful deployment meant learning to be on their own and filling their time constructively.
This was harder for some than others.
Experiencing a loss was the hardest part of the deployment for MaryJo Brown, wife of Lance Cpl. Kyle Brown, a rifleman with BLT 1/7. Just days into her husband’s deployment, MaryJo miscarried their child. Being alone, however difficult, helped her gain confidence in her ability to be independent, she said.
In order to fill her time, Allissa Skow, wife of machine gunner Lance Cpl. Jason Skow, attended classes at California State University San Bernardino.
Ten-year-old Collin Wade is an expert at deployments. Collin, son of Staff Sgt. Jonathan Wade, a platoon sergeant, has weathered five deployments.
To help him deal with his dad being gone, he attended classes offered by his school, Friendly Hills Elementary, in Joshua Tree, Calif. In one activity, students drew pictures of their favorite memory of their dad. It helped him by getting his mind off his dad being away from home.
But Collin gave another important person in his life most of the credit for helping him cope. “I have a really awesome mom,” he said.
Other than simply coming home to those they’d left behind, some of the Marines and sailors returned to a larger family than when they’d left.
“I can’t even explain it,” said Seaman Justin McNiel, a corpsman with BLT 1/7, trying to explain how it felt to hold his 2-month-old son, Matthew, for the first time. “It’s the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Through eight months of cramped quarters and globetrotting, it is stories like McNiel’s that made this homecoming one of the sweetest ones yet for the men of BLT 1/7.