MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Handmade and store bought banners displaying welcome home messages can be seen decorating the chain-link fences and roadways of Camp Lejeune this week signaling the return of approximately 2,300 Marines and Sailors with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
After being away from their loved ones during the seven-month deployment, Marines and Sailors were greeted by friends and families as they stepped off of busses and aircraft at various locations throughout Camp Lejeune, and at Marine Corps Air Stations New River and Cherry Point, Aug 11-13.
While they were deployed the 24th MEU completed a wide variety of missions from humanitarian assistance in Haiti, to bilateral training exercises in the Middle East with partnered countries in that region of the world.
“This deployment was characterized by the unique flexibility, diversity, and responsiveness of the forward deployed presence of our Marine Corps and Navy team,” said Col. Pete Petronzio, commanding officer, 24th MEU. “We were able to quickly and efficiently respond to the needs of the Haitian people and soon there after execute a number of varied Theater Security Cooperation exercises all while being ready to support the Geographic Combatant Commander however needed.”
The deployment kicked off after a devastating earthquake struck 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince the capitol of Haiti Jan. 12. Embodying the MEU concept of acting as a force in readiness, the 24th MEU began their deployment by spending two weeks supporting Operation Unified Response.
While in Haiti, the Marines had the mission to meet with locals, and survey the damage in order to assess the situation in population centers that previously had not been evaluated for earthquake damage. The Marines also conducted supported humanitarian relief efforts delivering 8,783 bags of rice, 30,000 bottles of water, 117,000 individual meals and 2,600 pounds of medical supplies to earthquake survivors. Medical and dental personnel from the MEU also worked alongside Navy corpsmen to treat more than 100 earthquake survivors, including 16 Haitians who were evacuated to the USS Nassau for treatment.
“It was tremendous to be able to go and help in a difficult situation like that in Haiti,” Petronzio said. “I think it shows the awesome flexibility of a Marine Expeditionary Unit on very short notice to be able to go and do that and then transition into all of our other missions.”
The 24th MEU departed Haiti on Feb. 7, and steamed across the Atlantic, through the Mediterranean and Suez Canal into the 5th Fleet area of operations where they served as the theater reserve force for Central Command from February through July.
Here the MEU participated in a variety of training exercises throughout the Middle East traveling to places like Djibouti, Kuwait, Oman and Jordan to conduct various live-fire ranges, and exercises in counterinsurgency training and military operations in urban terrain.
Once home, the Marines and Sailors reunited with their loved ones and made up for lost time.
For Cpl. Kevin Dabrowski, the return home meant holding his three-month-old son, Garrett, for the first time near the Camp Lejeune movie theater.
“I can’t believe he’s actually here,” said Dabrowski, a rifleman with Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment. “When I left he was just a picture on a sonogram.”
Children ran and jumped with excitement as Marines exited busses. Children like Lance Cpl. Robert Bryant’s one-year-old daughter who smilingly embraced him after he stepped off the bus.
“When I left she couldn’t even hold herself up,” said Bryant, a rifleman with Battalion Landing Team 1/9. “Now she’s running around everywhere.”
Many service members missed significant dates for their families like anniversaries and birthdays over the seven months they were gone.
For Staff Sgt. Jamir Burton, the tactical operations chief for the command element’s intelligence section, the return home meant making up a missed birthday for his 8-year-old daughter, Caleve, and arriving home on time to see his son Amethyst turn seven.
“We get to go out to eat tonight,” Caleve said.
Marines continue offloading equipment from ships in Morehead City Port and are scheduled to complete the offload by Saturday.