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Old 07-14-2003, 04:54 AM
thedrifter thedrifter is offline
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Marines, sailors happy to be home from six-month deployment to gulf

By Michael Burge and David Hasemyer

July 13, 2003

CAMP PENDLETON ? Marine Capt. Jay Whalen stepped out of a CH-46 helicopter yesterday onto the familiar turf of Camp Pendleton for the first time in six months, hugged his wife and two sons, reached into his uniform pocket and pulled out a green ball.

He held it up to show his 5-year-old son, Noah, who had given it to his dad before he left for Iraq and war. Noah had named it the "green goblin ball."

"He said: 'It will help get rid of the bad guys. You got to take it, Daddy,' " Whalen said as he showed off the charmed toy.

"I carried it with me till the day I got on the boat. It worked."

Whalen and 2,200 other Marines and sailors of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit began arriving home yesterday after six months in the Persian Gulf. They came home aboard the amphibious assault ship Tarawa and amphibious transport dock Duluth. A third vessel in the group, the dock landing ship Rushmore, is scheduled to arrive at Camp Pendleton today after helping in a rescue at sea.

The unit deployed Jan. 6 and began arriving in Kuwait in February. It served as a lead force in the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Yesterday its members put all that behind them as they arrived home to hug anxious wives, children, parents and other loved ones.

It was hard for even the most seasoned Marine or sailor not to cry.

"Without that support structure back home, I couldn't even imagine doing what we had to do," said Senior Chief Petty Officer Mick Ruiz, a medical planner and 20-year Navy veteran, as he held his son, Miguel, 5.

Miguel didn't want to let go of his dad. While Ruiz was away, the boy ripped a page off a calendar each day, counting down the days of his father's six-month deployment.

Callie Ruiz held on to her husband, and they both held their son. "I can breathe now," she said.

The couple marked their sixth anniversary while he was overseas, so they had some celebrating to do.

"We have a Vegas trip planned," she said. "We had it planned since before he deployed.

"It's good to make plans. It gives you something to look forward to."

Sgt. Jamie Sisson marveled at how her children, 11/2-year-old Tyarra and 4-year-old Darrien, had changed.

"When I left, she had no hair on her head," Sisson said as she held her curly-topped daughter. "My son, he's grown up."

She said her daughter was standoffish when she first arrived, but that was quickly cured. "It feels wonderful," Sisson said.

Sandy Charnowske hugged her 21-year-old son, Andrew, for the first time in months.

"Just to hold him, I can't tell you," she said through tears. "I've never been through this before. I'm so glad he's home."

Sandy Charnowske, her husband, Mike, and their son, Corey, had flown in from Ann Arbor, Mich., to greet Andrew on his return from the war.

Andrew Charnowske turned 21 the day he arrived in Kuwait and celebrated with a huge fudge brownie.

Yesterday he was beaming. "It's great," he said. "It really hasn't sunk in yet."

In the hours before the Marines fell into the arms of their families, they hustled below decks aboard the Tarawa to get their gear ready to load onto the landing craft.

With clipboard in hand, Sgt. Jason Mills meticulously checked off every last bit of equipment his platoon took from the Camp Pendleton armory for use in Iraq: Machine guns ? check. Grenade launchers ? check. Javelin missiles ? check. M-16s ? check.

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit was getting ready to storm the friendly beach from the Tarawa. The objective: to get home as soon as possible to the waiting arms of loved ones.

The lower equipment decks of the Tarawa looked like a Cal Worthington used-car lot with Humvees, light armored vehicles, ambulances and personnel carriers crammed nose to tail, waiting to be loaded onto landing craft to be shuttled ashore.

It's amazing how quickly several hundred pieces of big ? really big ? equipment can be hustled ashore.

"These guy are motivated," Staff Sgt. Eric Young said. "Home is so close, so it doesn't take much."

As he talked, Young was distracted by people peppering him with questions, by directing the loading of gear and by thoughts of his own homecoming.

"It will be nice to get home and . . . " Young started to say before turning to deal with the question, "Hey, Sergeant, what do we we do with this?"

It was all part of the job of coming home.

Michael Burge: (760) 476-8230;

Hasemyer: (619) 542-4583;


SSgt. Roger A.
One Proud Marine
Once A Marine............Always A Marine.............
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