By Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Thorburn
Family and friends filled the Del Valle baseball field to welcome home their Marines and sailors from a yearlong deployment to Helmand province, Afghanistan, Monday.
Regimental Combat Team 7 replaced the 3rd Marine Regiment in October 2009, assuming authority over the Helmand province. They conducted counterinsurgency operations and took part in three major operations during the deployment.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Brian Velloza, the regimental food service chief, said while deployments mean hard times away from friends and family there were some rewards for their efforts.
“Our mission was to win the hearts and minds of the locals and give them a purpose,” Velloza said. The reward was “seeing them execute that purpose,” and witnessing their efforts “turn into something good,” he said.
Before the Marines’ and sailors’ rode the busses arrived, Denise Cullum, the family readiness officer for RCT-7, the anticipation of the those waiting was obvious. Family members waiting alongside Cullum to welcome home their heroes said they felt the same.
“It hadn’t really hit me until this morning, because this is our first deployment,” said Cheyenne Williams, wife of Cpl. Joshua Williams, a radio operator for RCT-7. “He has been calling me as they come up the hill. It is getting really exciting. I am getting kind of nervous.”
Members of RCT-7’s advanced party who arrived home last month, also waited to reunite with the rest of their unit.
“It’s like a surprise birthday party,” Velloza said. “I was over there with the regiment and came back with the advanced party, and I’m just glad to have the boys back.”
Those in the unit with young children were in for even more surprises.
“I think [Elijah Williams, 14-month-old son of Williams,] is going to know who his dad is but Joshua is going to be shocked because he has learned how to walk, talk a little bit and is eating now,” Cheyenne said. “I think he is going to be great with him at this age now. He is going to be surprised on how big he is.”
The heartfelt homecoming was just the first stage in the Marines’ return to garrison life.
The returning veterans have four days to spend with their families before they attend warrior transition classes, Velloza said.
“It is something that needs to happen,” he explained. “They start the transition into the civilian life vice living 12 months in a combat zone, so we can catch any behavior changes. If somebody needs help, we will give it to them.”
Although all of RCT-7 returned safe and sound, as Marines, sailors and families headed out to enjoy their time off, they couldn’t forget about the friends they’d made who won’t be seeing their families again. A memorial service for those attached to RCT-7 who paid the ultimate price is scheduled for Oct. 15 at Lance Cpl. Tory Gray field.