The Return of the MEU

In April Alex was set to return from his deployment. The 13th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) would return from their almost nine month’s away. Of course, Alex wasn’t with his MEU for most of that time. He was on a special assignment in Djibouti which is just as well since he had no great desire to spend nine months on shipboard.

Jim and I wanted to be there to welcome Alex and his fellow Marines home from a successful expedition so we planned a holiday designed to get us on the West Coast with flexibility to be at Camp Pendleton when the MEU returned. The target date was April 24th.

The Marine Corps does a pretty darn good job with ceremony. They really like a good ceremony and all that it represents. The night before the ships were due to port, there was a Family Dinner on base. Jim and I arrived just in time for cocktails at the Officers and Enlisted Personnel Recreation Center. The building is perched high on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was a festive gathering of about 300 family members and friends of the returning personnel. Dinner was exceptionally bad chicken with frozen vegetables, but spirits were high. Most of the evening was a briefing from various officers and chaplains. There were video messages from Commanding Officers congratulating the MEU and the families of those serving for a successful venture. There were messages from the Chaplains about what to expect in returning personnel and how to help them readjust to life on base. There were plenty of pictures of life on base during the MEU as well. It was quite a fascinating look at military life. Midway through the evening news spread through the dining room that the ships were visible off shore. The anticipation and excitement spiked and even as I write this I can feel those emotions returning. It was a very powerful evening. We sat at a table with a young wife and her parents. She was over the moon excited to see her husband and he had just gotten enough cell signal to text her so even if the chicken had been a gourmet feast, she wasn’t eating a bite.

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The next day was a full day of activities designed to keep families entertained and engaged while waiting for the ships to discharge their human cargo. Again, the Marine Corps has had some experience with waiting. True to form the first LCU’s would begin arriving almost six hours after they were supposed to. Camp Pendleton has a gorgeous beach, Del Mar Beach, and it was deployed to great effect. Events on the beach began with breakfast and continued throughout the day with music and a dj, games and entertainment for children and free food and beverages. It was an all day beach party with a big payoff planned at the end.

Jim and I had other fish to fry. First we went to Jennie’s–a favorite breakfast haunt in Oceanside, this past year they moved to a beautiful new location and Jennie proved her creativity by fashioning all the light fixtures herself out of colanders, mason jars, etc. The place is darling and the food ain’t bad either.

Then off to Michaels for craft supplies. Jim and I were going to greet our Marine in full parental regalia–including special MEU commemorative shirts! If a parent’s obligation is to embarrass their offspring, we would do it up well. We had a great time making the posters back in our hotel room. The stencils were a little fiddly and tough, but the finished product was patriotic and enthusiastic and we didn’t make a mess.

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We had been told to expect our troops to land about 2:00 p.m. We got to the beach about 1:15. Jim appeared outwardly calm, I was, of course, in a lather that we would miss something. As it turnout out, we had hours to wait. It is, after all, the military.  Our posters stood us in good stead. They were life-sized id cards and lots of people came up to us on the beach to identify themselves as commanding officers or friends and peers of Alex. We were regaled with some great stories, kind words about our first-born and learned tons of useful information about Marine life. Even Jim had to admit the posters were a boon. We ate some food, hung out and stared longlingly at the U.S.S. Boxer on the horizon.

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In the pictures above the top left way on the horizon you can see the outline of the U.S.S. Boxer. The others show the cabanas and tents and crowds on the beach as well as the welcome area on the lower left. It is an amazingly gorgeous beach.

At long last came the announcement everyone had wanted to hear…the first LCU had left the Boxer. All women with babies born since the MEU left were urged to come forward so their husbands could get first sight of the baby. Everyone else surged forward into a semi-circle in the greeting area. Jim and I clambered up onto a stone wall by the road up which the troops would be marching. With one hand, I held my poster and with the other I snapped photos. The waiting was both exhilarating and excruciating. Down the road at the boat launch the troops disembarked, formed up and marched up the road. They stood for review and, at long last, they were released.

There were joyous reunions all around.

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Not the least of which was our reunion with our own special Corporal Alex Frost.

 

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