MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Georgine Thompson laughed restlessly with friends and fellow spouses as she waited for the arrival of her husband. Victory Field had filled with more than 150 anxious family members, friends and fellow remain behind element Marines in anticipation of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1’s return to the Combat Center March 20.
Over the blaring loudspeakers and the harmonies of the MCAGCC Band, the crowd listened to updates on the progress of the white buses, which whisked their loved ones away on the first day of their deployment months ago and now would return them home again.
As voices and shouts surged together with the sounds of wailing sirens, Thompson grabbed her family and her camera as the buses hissed to a stop and spewed Marines onto the field.
Moments later, she held her husband, Staff Sgt. John Thompson, in a long and tearful embrace for the first time in seven months.
“It’s so good to have him home,” Mrs. Thompson said through smiles and tears.
Many of the 141 Marines and Sailors of VMU-1 were welcomed home in similar fashion after their deployment to Iraq’s Al Anbar province.
“Pretty much our whole family came out here for this,” said Mrs. Thompson, who resides in Twentynine Palms but was joined by other family members from Texas and Los Angeles for the event. “We have his mom, sister, brother-in-law, niece and our two sons.
“This deployment has been good,” she continued. “We were able to keep in touch more this time because he had internet access and sometimes was able to use the phone. Our kids took it much better this time because they were able to talk to him.”
VMU-1 departed the Combat Center in August to support II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) units. The squadron is one of only two units in the Marine Corps that operate unmanned aerial vehicles, which serve as a source of near-real-time tactical aerial reconnaissance for ground commanders.
While the band played and other families reunited on the field, the Thompson family took group photos to commemorate the happy moment of their hero’s reurn from his third deployment to Iraq.
“It feels great to be back and see everyone again,” said Thompson, the squadron intelligence chief. “I just want to take this break to spend as much time with my family as I can.”
Other Marines who did not have the support of families present were not left out as Marine Corps Community Services and Key Volunteer Network “Official Huggers” swarmed them with warm welcomes.
“My family is not here, but I got my share of hugs,” said Pfc. Jose Cruz, field radio operator, who wore lipstick on his cheek from the attention he received after stepping off the bus. “We all certainly feel very welcomed.”
Through the carnival-like atmosphere, many Marines said the thought of their next deployment is something they can’t help shaking.
“I’m looking forward to the deployment just as much as anybody else is,” said Cruz with sarcasm in his voice. “We just got back and we’ll be going again soon.”
VMU-1 has been deploying back-to-back with the Camp Lejeune-based VMU-2 since Operation Iraqi Freedom began because of the unique nature of support the squadrons provide to combat units.
“After we settle in again we’ll start preparing for the next time we have to head over there,” said Thompson.
The Thompsons helped their Marine carry his pack and sea bags and loaded up their car as the smiles and commotion at Victory Field began to fade.
Other VMU-1 Marines helped take down the signs, banners and streamers that adorned the area as the event drew to a close.
Marines and loved ones cleared the field and headed for home for well-deserved rest and leave where they could finally put their families first after the long months apart and their return journey from nearly halfway around the world.