MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. (Oct. 26, 2009) It was 2:40 a.m. today and no one was yawning. There was too much excitement as the Quantico Marine Band struck up The Stars and Stripes Forever, while the 157 Marines of Task Force East marched smartly into Barber Gymnasium, returning from a four-and-a-half month deployment to Iraq.
Ruth Sandino couldnt sit still. Tired from having just driven 26 hours from San Antonio, she was nervous about seeing her youngest child, Lance Cpl. Bayardo Andino.
Hes my baby, said Sandino, the mother of three. I raised him by myself. Even though he has two older sisters, hes the man of the family.
Shes no stranger to having a family member deployed. Her two daughters are each veterans of deployments with the Navy.
As communications manager for the USO of Metropolitan Washington, Crystal Benton has seen deployment from a professional, somewhat distant perspective. Today, however, she has a front-row seat. She and Cpl. Jacob Burnett have been dating for just about a year and she was anxious for his return.
There are some nerves, she said as she fidgeted with a sign that read Welcome home, sugar.
Im impressed with families who endure and sacrifice, she said. They, too, really serve our country.
Erica Hall had more reasons to be nervous. Her husband, Cpl. David Hall, would soon meet his new three-week-old daughter, Riley.
Hes gotten to hear her but he hasnt seen her yet, she said.
Later Dad was cuddled with Mom and daughter, sharing their first quiet moments as a family, despite the hubbub in the gym. Dad inspected his baby girls fingers. They were perfect.
Task Force East deployed in mid-June and at the homecoming nearly 200 loved ones waited patiently for their Marines. There were even Marines waiting for Marines.
Cpl. Renatta Fenton, a Marine stationed here at Quantico, waited for her fiancé, Cpl. Lloyd Hall, a Marine from Headquarters Marine Corps at Henderson Hall. They are scheduled to be married November 6.
At 3 a.m. tables groaned under the weight food set up by Marine Corps Community Services while families hugged one another. A few noticed the band begin to play the Marine Hymn and snapped to attention. Others were too caught up in the excitement of being reunited and simply held each other closely.