MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Marines from 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion returned to the Combat Center this week to a hero’s welcome.
Family, friends and service members gathered at the battalion’s motor transport lot at what looked like a family day-style barbecue, while they anxiously awaited the buses bringing their Marines home.
Nervous excitement could be felt throughout the crowd as updates on the buses’ locations spread.
For small children who still hadn’t developed a solid concept of time, waiting a few more minutes was unbearable.
“He’s taking a long time to get here,” said Ema Jimenez, 3-year-old daughter of Staff Sgt. Ronnie Jimenez, a platoon sergeant with Company A. Ema had not seen her dad since the unit left for Afghanistan seven months ago.
James and April Wilson of Spring Branch, Texas, could not wait the few extra days it would take for their son, Cpl. Dillon Wilson, to return home on leave. They drove 1,250 miles in order to be here when he got off the bus.
“We were here when he left,” said James. “We had to be here when he got back. That’s the most we could do except to go with him.”
Marines often miss out on special events with loved ones while deployed. That was no different for Lt. Col. Kenneth Kassner, 3rd LAR’s commander, who missed holidays and other family events with his four sons.
Nine-year-old Erich, Kassner’s son, said he has big plans for his dad, who missed Erich and five-year-old Christopher’s birthdays.
“First, we’re going to breakfast, then golfing,” said Erich. The three will continue the day with lunch and swimming, and finish with dinner with the rest of the family.
Missing events at home did not keep the Marines from accomplishing their mission in Afghanistan. Kassner defined the battalion’s deployment a success in two ways, measurable and immeasurable.
The Marines were able to remove more than 100 enemy combatants from the battlefield, found and destroyed more than 20,000 improvised explosive device components and destroyed more than 200 IEDs. Additionally, the battalion was able to destroy or confiscate more than 20,000 pounds of illicit drugs.
More importantly, the Marines achieved intangible gains. During the seven months, the Marines enhanced the security environment within their area of operation.
“When local nationals are approaching your patrols to tell you where the enemy is, or there are IEDs around the next corner, that’s success,” said Kassner.
Back at the Combat Center, balloons, signs, cheering crowds, smiles and hugs from loved ones were another indicator of a successful mission and a happy return.