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Photo by Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes

Big day for 1/7’s advance party as they return from Iraq

6 Sep 2006 | Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes

The notorious Mojave Desert sun shined bright on Victory Field, but showed compassion in keeping the heat to a minimum. Sept. 6 was the perfect day for more than 100 people aboard the Combat Center. Two hours past noon and a section of Victory Field was full of life. The energy level of family members and friends was above normal for a Wednesday as they awaited the arrival of their loved ones after a 7-month Iraq deployment.At 2 p.m., the energy increased as 50 advance party members from 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, strutted onto Victory Field to reunite with those awaiting them.Excitement overwhelmed the Clark family who were waiting on Sgt. Michael D. Clark, a motor transportation operator with Headquarters and Service Company, 1/7. Clark arrived on his son, Scott’s, third birthday."I cannot put these feelings I have into words," said Nikki, Clark’s wife, as she waited for the 2-bus convoy to arrive at the Combat Center. "I’m ecstatic that he’s coming on Scott’s birthday. It’s wonderful."Nikki made a DVD of her husband that Scott watched almost every night, she said. That afternoon, Scott was able to see the man behind the screen, a birthday present that will not be matched throughout his life, said Nikki."He never forgot Daddy’s face," she added.As Clark walked away from the white, unmarked buses, he entered the west gate of Victory Field where he scanned all families and friends who waited and cheered. By surprise, he was showered by hugs and kisses from his family who ran up from beside him as he searched the field. Saying "happy birthday" wasn’t necessary for Scott, — the moment implied the phrase."It makes coming home that much better," said Clark, a Reno, Nev., native. "I’ve been looking forward to this day as much as my family has."Clark’s plans are to relax, unpack and catch up with his family. For the past seven months, his battalion operated in Iraq’s Al Anbar province with their firm base in Al Qaim. Their mission was to get the Iraqi Army up to par with being a self operated force in the country, he said. By the time 1/7’s advance party departed, the Iraqi Army were patrolling by themselves and accomplishing vital missions like finding weapons caches.Despite their success in Iraq, the families and friends who waited at home weren’t thinking about the missions in Iraq, but their loved ones’ safe return home.Cpl. Jason J. Christlieb, a rifleman with “Suicide Charley,” and Cati his wife, were married two months before the deployment. It was tough being away from her new husband, she said."I’m very sad that I had to let him go to a dangerous place right after we married each other," said Cati moments before the advance party arrived. "But since he left, I’ve been keeping very busy. I moved into our first place that we’ll live together in and I got a dog for us. "I couldn’t wait any longer," she added. "I’m getting my newlywed back. We’re going to be a family now. I am so excited now, I’m beside myself."
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