MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- The police vehicles rounded the bend with their sirens blaring, but there were no accidents or fires in sight. Following the sirens came three white buses, packed full with Marines who were leaning out of the windows with grins on their faces and disposable cameras in their hands.
The crowd of families waiting on Victory Field erupted with joyous yelling and colorful, waving banners.
The Marines and sailors of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, returned Sept. 21 through 23 from their third deployment to Iraq.
The second wave of 300 Marines from 1/7 returned home, escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders.
The PGR is a motorcycle group which was established in 2005 to help protect the families and loved ones from protesters at military funerals. The PGR lead the Marines from March Air Force Base all the way to Victory Field. The thunderous rumble of motorcycle engines and sea of billowing American flags attached to the bikes added an even more patriotic edge to the occasion.
While deployed, Marines conducted operations in An Najaf Province, Al Qaim, Al Anbar province, and several other Iraqi territories.
Since the battalion’s initial deployment to Iraq in 2003, the Marines and sailors have left their mark on the history of a newly self-governed Iraq.
During their first deployment, Marines helped Iraqi law enforcement agencies identify former Ba’ath members by helping create the Ba’ath Party Investigation Committee. They also assisted with operations for the Legal Aid Society in An Najaf, a society created to give under-privileged Iraqi citizens free legal guidance, while also providing opportunities for underused Iraqi lawyers.
The second deployment began in August of 2004. It was there that the Marines served as security along roadways and in cities, did urban patrols, border security and sweep operations.
The objective of their third deployment was to help re-build Iraqi Army Police units while assisting in eliminating insurgents in Al Qa’im territory.
The Iraqi Army units learn the same material Marines learn prior to deploying. This includes patrolling, security check points, and responding to improvised explosive devises. The Iraqi units proved very useful in aiding with interaction among the locals in the region.
"The big difference between other units and this one is that you can see what changes these Marines did," said Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, battalion commanding officer in his speech to the crowd before the Marines stepped onto the field.
The families agreed and shared their appreciation and enthusiasm.
"This is his third deployment," said Yang Johnson, wife of Staff Sgt. Phillip Johnson, mess chief and native of Jewett City, Conn. "What really got me through were the phone calls. We would talk once a week," she said.
Tyler Johnson, their son, could hardly contain his excitement as he kicked his legs and shifted constantly on the wooden bench he sat on. Then, half-standing on his seat, he said, "When he gets here, I want to play golf with him over there," as he pointed to the golf course to his right.
Christine Gibson, mother of Cpl. Chris Gibson, sat at another table with three friends and clasped her hands together in anticipation.
"The first thing I’m going to do is bring him home and feed him some country fried steak," said Gibson with a chuckle.