MARINE CORPS BASE TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- While families and friends gathered in good company to celebrate the nation’s independence, the “War Dogs” packed up their sea bags and returned to the Middle East for duty — again.More than 700 Marines and Sailors from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment departed the Combat Center July 2 through 7 to support the ongoing global war against terrorism, 10 months after they returned from their first deployment to Iraq.Families and friends of the deploying Marines and Sailors gathered in the parking lot during hot days and nights to say goodbye to their loved ones. For their second trip to Operation Iraqi Freedom, new leadership spearheads the battalion. Led by Lt. Col. Joseph A. Letoile, commanding officer and Sgt. Maj. David Plaster, battalion sergeant major, the battalion took on the responsibility of leaving weeks short of their scheduled departure date.Instead of spending the Fourth of July watching the fireworks in the sky, 2/7 families were left longing for seven months to pass them quickly. “I was shocked to hear they were going to leave over the holiday,” said Yvette Rivera, friend of Antonio Rivera, rifleman, Fox Company. “But it’s not in my hands and I know he has his job to do. All I can do is support him and pray these next seven months go by fast and that they all come home safe again.” Seven months may seem long for some however, spouses and loved ones of 2/7 found a way to make the distance and time spent away from their warrior husbands a short one. The families initiated a program, ‘To Iraq and Back,’ which began July 1, in order to promote their well being, relieve any stress they may succumb to, build cohesiveness among the “War Dog” family and to support their Marine or Sailor. The idea is to “travel” the distance from Twentynine Palms to Iraq and back. The total distance from the Combat Center to Iraq and back is16,416 miles. The program, coordinated by Laura Adams, Sally Salmons and Sylvia Sanchez was jump started by Larry Stratton, Family Services, Marine Corps Community Service, through his encouragement along with the help of Lt. Erasmo Valles, 2/7, family readiness officer, Chaplain Robert Wills and Lt. Col. L’Etoile. “The program was originally developed by Anne Courie for the Army’s 1st Infantry Division in Wuerzburg, Germany,” said Salmons, wife of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mark Salmons, battalion gunner. “However, we have adapted the concept to meet the needs of our 2/7 family. Instead of each person committing to walk the total distance and counting their steps per day, our program asks that each participant commits to walking, running, or biking several times each week, based on their individual fitness level.” Each month, the totals from every participant will be combined to track the progress of the program as a whole. The deployed Marines and Sailors will be updated on the progress through the unit’s website, and through periodical mailings to the front. “The response has exceeded our expectations,” said Salmons. “To date, from here in [Twentynine Palms] all the way to Italy, over 140 family members of 2/7 Marines and Sailors have registered to participate. While we are confident that collectively we will achieve the goal of walking the 16,416 mile round trip from between [Twentynine P alms] and Iraq, supporting our Marines and Sailors while staying active and healthy is paramount.” Monthly reports and updates will be posted on the battalion’s Web site at: www.29palms.usmc.mil/fmf/2-7/default.asp. There is a “half-way-there” walk slated for October. The program is open to all family members of a 2/7 Marine or Sailor. For more information on the program email firstname.lastname@example.org.