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Old 05-20-2003, 05:30 AM
thedrifter thedrifter is offline
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Cool It's a happy landing for returning Marines

It's a happy landing for returning Marines

By Jeanette Steele

May 17, 2003

For Cpl. Gina Devine, yesterday was the best day in a long while.

She returned to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station aboard the KC-130 she helps navigate, expecting to find no one welcoming her home from war. Her husband, an infantryman with Camp Pendleton's 5th Regiment, also is deployed.

Instead, her co-workers were standing under an enormous American flag, waiting to greet her. She also learned that her husband is scheduled to return to Camp Pendleton early today.

"It's fantastic. I can't even explain how exciting it was to get back home, and my whole shop came out to see me," said Devine, 24, one of three female crew members in the returning unit, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352.

Deployed since late January, Devine will wait more agonizing hours while her husband turns in his weapons, gets debriefings and then, finally, is able to come home.

She'll use the time to reacquaint herself with home life, after living in tents on dusty airfields in Iraq.

"It's good, because I can get cleaned up, and clean my house and get him some supper," Devine said.

It has been a hard-fought four months for the "Raiders" of VMGR-352.

At any one time, the squadron would have six to nine KC-130s in the war theater. The job of the lumbering, four-propeller aircraft was to ferry supplies to Miramar-and Camp Pendleton-based Marines on the battlefield.

It also refueled Marine fighter jets and other aircraft flying combat missions over Iraq. And, landing on primitive airstrips in Iraq, it carried troops to the fighting. Crews worked 12-and 14-hour days, said Maj. Greg Grinaker, the squadron's executive officer.

Two KC-130s and about 140 Marines returned to Miramar yesterday. Three more Raiders planes are expected to return tomorrow.

About 215 more Marines from the 3rd Marine Air Wing are scheduled to come home this morning. They are headquarters personnel from Marine Air Groups 16 and 39, and Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3. Members of Marine Wing Communications Squadron 37 also will arrive.

At Camp Pendleton, about 50 members of the 5th Marine Regiment are expected to return today, a spokesman said.

At least 2,300 San Diego-based Marines and sailors have returned to date. But homecomings will continue to fill the calendar in coming months, as most of the 50,000 locally based service members who deployed have yet to arrive.

For the families awaiting the Raiders' return, this deployment was especially filled with anxiety because of the squadron's tragedy during the Afghanistan conflict.

In January 2002, a Raider KC-130 was flying a night resupply mission in Pakistan when it struck a mountainside near a landing strip. All seven aboard ? six Raiders and a sergeant from a communications squadron ? were killed.

Officials determined the cause to be crew error, over the protests of family members who said there wasn't enough evidence to rule out other factors.

This time, everyone returned. But Melissa Vaassen thought about that crash while her husband, Joe, was overseas.

"That heightened it, I think, for the whole squadron because they are out there flying tons of missions," said Vaassen, 32, a mother of two.

"This is such a crazy time; you never know where the other side is going to attack," she said. "It was very nerve-racking the whole time."

Capt. Drew Hess, a KC-130 pilot who returned yesterday, said the missions ? some as long as 18 hours ? were more dangerous than during the fighting in Afghanistan. Still, like other KC-130 pilots, he said the pace was too fast for him to have time to worry.

"I suppose it was dangerous, but when you're just doing your job, you don't think about it too much," the 29-year-old said. "Everybody did an awesome job."

Jeanette Steele: (760) 476-8244;


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