Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. -- Seven months of nervousness and restless nights finally came to end for a lot of loving family members and friends, and the time to celebrate with the ones they missed the most returned.
Seventy-two Marines and Sailors from Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion, enjoyed the afternoon, Oct. 6, reuniting with their families and friends during a homecoming ceremony at the Combat Center’s Victory Field.
The celebration caused for balloons, flags and signs reading “Welcome Home Marines.” The anticipation was over when white busses, carrying veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, halted in front of a cheering, patriotic crowd of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents and friends.
For one Marine in particular, the day not only reunited him with his family, but united him and his family with a new member.
Corporal Russell S. Dasch, tank crewman, spent a brief moment hugging his family and friends at the homecoming ceremony and immediately rushed to the Saddleback Hospital in Mission Viejo, Calif., where his wife was moments away from giving birth to his new son, Rylan Daniel.
“His hopes were if he can’t get back before the birth, at least he was lucky enough to be there that day,” said his mother, Marla Dasch, before Alpha Company’s arrival. “Nonetheless, he will definitely have a newborn son this afternoon.”
Present at the ceremony to celebrate Dasch’s return was his mother, father, grandmother and friends of the family. The family drove Dasch to his wife, Erin, shortly after he got off of the bus.
“We are all so proud of Russell,” added Marla. “After two years in the Corps this was his first deployment. It was heartbreaking to know he was going but we knew he had to at some point. We are glad that he came back safe and now very excited for him. [Oct. 6] will be a very important date to remember.”
For another family, the same feeling of concern struck them in March when their only son in the Marine Corps was heading off to Iraq for the first time.
Sam Massengale, the father of Lance Cpl. Christopher R. Alexander, wasn’t surprised either when Alexander brought home the news of his deployment.
“The first thing I thought was that we all were going to miss him,” said Massengale moments before Alexander’s arrival. “But he calmed our nerves by sending letters and e-mails, and giving us phone calls every once in a while. I am happy he is home and safe now. We’re going to take him back home to [Sunset, Texas], and have a party at the house. I’ll cook him some steaks and his mother will make him some good, home-cooked meals. He’s also got a big group of friends and family members that are waiting to greet him.”
As the busses where moments away from approaching Victory Field, Alexander’s mother, Billie, was holding his 28-month-old daughter, Lena.
“I don’t know whether to cry or jump for joy right now,” said Billie. “His daughter doesn’t really know what’s going on right now but she will when she sees her father’s face. We’ve been showing her pictures of him every day since he left.”
“This day makes me proud to be American,” said Mary Pitman, mother of tank crewman, Lance Cpl. Phil P. Hart, as she tried to resist from tearing up moments before the busses came to Victory Field. “I am proud of our Marines, and most importantly, I am proud of my son. I love him to death for this and I can’t wait to see him.”
According to a public affairs fact sheet, the battalion deployed in March, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and predominantly operated in Al Anbar province, under 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
The province is the largest province in Iraq and shares a border with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The province contains two, well-known cities: Fallujah and Ramadi. The battalion is responsible for providing armored assets as well as anti-armor systems and staff expertise in their employment.
“The celebration here was well appreciated,” said 1st Sgt. William S. Harvey, Alpha Company first sergeant. “Our mission out there was a great success. First Tank Battalion will continue to play its part in the global war on terrorism, but as for now, we will use the time to claim our place with our family again.”
Harvey’s wife, Ginger, feels the same.
“This moment is overwhelming,” said Ginger. “I’m speechless. I will get to know my husband all over again.”