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“First of the First” return from 7 month deployment

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (Feb. 21, 2008) -- Wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, and other friends were among the excited greeters waiting for the return of Marines from 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Feb. 12 at the battalion’s home at 53 Area, Camp Horno. Flags waved and children played on the parade deck behind the headquarters building for 1/1 – the “First of the First” – who were drawing to a close their seven-month deployment to Iraq.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/40495545A1B40E56852573F6007DAE71?opendocument

Feb. 21, 2008; Submitted on: 02/21/2008 05:52:46 PM ; Story ID#: 2008221175246
By Sgt. M. Trent Lowry , MCB Camp Pendleton

“We’re very proud of him and every Marine in the battalion,” said Robin Smith, mother of Cpl. Nelson L. Smith, a Company B squad leader from Winter Springs, Fla. “We did a lot of praying, like we’ve done for the past seven months.” “We’re relieved to see him, touch him, hold him and have him back with us,” added Neal Smith, Cpl. Smith’s father, who served in the Navy. Multiple flights of 1/1 Marines arrived at different times, each wave met by scores of loved ones excited to be reunited with their warriors.

The battalion augmented Regimental Combat Team 6 in support of the Marine Corps’ mission of stability and security in Al Anbar province, the large area west of Baghdad that includes the formerly restive cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. “I saw great improvements in the capabilities of the Iraqi forces,” said Capt. Stefan R. Barr, commanding officer of Company B, 1/1. “We gained the trust of the locals and won the hearts and minds of the Iraqis. The Marines performed phenomenally in attaining our mission goals.”

Though the battalion motto is “Ready to Fight,” the Marines, for the most part, did not have to focus on going to battle. Instead, 1/1 added their expertise to the training and support of Iraqi troops and expanded their abilities.

“We were training them so they could become a better force,” said Barr, from Lynchburg, Va., who said previous units in the area had laid a successful groundwork on which 1/1 capitalized. “It’s an ongoing process with the Iraqis. We were able to maintain security, improve the Iraqi’s capabilities and start the local governance.” Seeing the effects of their hard work paying off was a motivating factor for the battalion’s Marines. “At first, it didn’t seem like we were doing much, but after seeing the progress of the seven months, it seems like we accomplished more than what we set out to do,” said Lance Cpl. Mike E. Young, 22, a fire team leader with Company B, 1/1. “I’m proud of what we’ve done.

The whole company came home with a good reputation, and we brought everyone home.” Being home was a relief to the Marines, but the arrival of the warriors was foremost on the minds of the families, many of whom had been preparing for weeks for the arrival of their heroes.

One spouse, Angela D. Mendez, said she and her daughters spent at least 20 hours altogether making more than a dozen bedsheet banners for her husband, 1stLt. Jesus D. Mendez, Company B, 1/1, and the rest of the Marines. “I want him to know that I will go above and beyond for him, because he goes above and beyond for me,” said Angela Mendez, an Oceanside, Calif., nurse. “We wanted to do it to make it special for him, so he would know we missed him a lot.”

The remain-behind element of Marines teamed with the Key Volunteers and other family members to set up two bouncy castles for the kids, handed out balloons, and satisfied guests’ appetite with plenty of food and drinks. “We have a great group of wives in this battalion,” said Joanne M. Conner, wife of Lt. Col. Jeffrey T. Conner, battalion commanding officer. “They are very self-sufficient and have a strong sense of family.”