MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Family and friends waited anxiously at the Combat Center’s Victory Field for the Marines and Sailors of 1st Tank Battalion, TOW Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, to come home April 19.
After waiting well into the evening, the crowd grabbed their welcome home signs and moved into the West Gym to wait as night fell over the field. Family members climbed the bleachers and shared a giant roll of tape to adorn the basketball court’s bare walls with their signs and pictures.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Dorothy Delaroi, mother of Cpl. Ryan Delaroi, as she taped up one of two signs she and her husband made for his return.
“We’re so proud of him and we can’t wait to see him!” said Kenneth Delaroi, Dorothy’s husband.
Although the wait was long, the crowd was cheerful and friendly, and as patient as they could be, until more than 50 Marines and Sailors of 1st Tanks rolled into their arms 15 minutes past midnight.
Tess, an 11 year old golden retriever, traveled with the Sears family from Upland, Calif., to greet her best friend, Cpl. Brian Sears.
The two have been best friends since Sears was 11 years old, Sears said.
Tess’ tail wagged and she tugged on her collar when she recognized Sears in the sea of desert camouflage utilities.
This was the second return of the week for 1st Tanks. On April 17, the Combat Center welcomed home more than 100 Marines and Sailors from Bravo Company and Scout Platoon.
The Marines and Sailors who returned last week just finished a seven-month stint in Iraq for the unit’s third deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Bravo Co. and Scout Platoon served with Regimental Combat Team 7 for most of their deployment, while TOW Platoon served with RCT 5 and 8.
These Marines and Sailors conducted security patrols along some of the most dangerous main supply routes through Al Asad and Fallujah, said 1st Lt. Adam Johnson, 1st Tanks’ adjutant.
Leaving that behind to be reunited with loved ones is weight lifted off their shoulders, explained Lance Cpl. Dana Mullins, native of Jerome, Idaho.
“This is a great feeling,” he said, as he held his 4 month old son, Tegan, for the first time. “It was hard to leave my wife by herself, but even harder to leave her while she was pregnant.”
Mullins’ wife, Tessa, just began her pregnancy when he left for his third deployment with the unit.
“It was hard to see him go,” said Tessa. “He missed the birth and the first months of his life, so they have a lot of catching up to do.”
Mullins will spend the next few weeks getting to know his son and learning to be a daddy alongside his shipmates as they return to their lives at home.