Sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, friends and fellow service members gathered to welcome home Marines from Marine Attack Squadron 211 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 inside VMA 211’s hangar at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Nov. 1 and 3.
After a seven-month deployment in support of combat operations in southern Afghanistan, the Yuma-based Marines arrived to the cheering, hugs and applause of those in attendance.
“Excitement, joy, relief,” said Cpl. Lynn Patrick Lane, a fixed wing aircraft power plants mechanic with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 and a native of Phoenix, Ariz. “Being separated reminds you how much you actually miss things and people.”
On Nov. 3, VMA-211 had AV-8B Harriers flown back and taxied in before a crowd of eagerly awaiting family members. “We’re all just happy to be home, being able to see our families,” said Maj. Robb McDonald, a AV-8B Harrier pilot with Marine Attack Squadron 211 and a director of safety and standardization who had his wife and father in attendance.
Both days had the atmosphere of celebration and excitement in the air. Children roamed around waving flags and banners of support in anticipation of seeing their loved ones on the flight line.
“He talked to his daughter every week,” said Sharon Lane, the mother of Cpl. Lane. “We’re definitely looking forward to him coming home.”
Family pets, often missed by their faithful owners, were also in attendance; a German Sheppard even wore a festive tutu for the occasion.
The children were entertained with a bouncing house to help keep their enthusiasm up as well as coloring books that explained what reuniting with their mom or dad would be like.
“It was a little more trying this time because we have a son who’s four,” said Alyse Draper, the wife of Sgt. Matt Draper and a native of San Diego. “The age of my son made it more difficult. He’s had a lot more questions regarding his dad being gone.”
Many in attendance were able to relate to the trying realities a deployment can put on the shoulders of a family.
“It was kind of hard, the last two or three months, with everything that has happened,” said Monica Pena, the mother of Cpl. James Pena and a native of Guam. “But in the end, he’s coming home. We’re looking forward to having him back.”
On Sept. 15, while the squadron supported ground and aerial combat operations at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, an attack took the lives of VMA-211’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, and MALS-13 electronics technician, Sgt. Bradley Atwell. The tragedy struck close to home for the Marine Corps families of Yuma and sent a strong reminder to the country of the realities Marines face on a daily basis.
“It actually happened during the week of my birthday, so he contacted me after and told me what happened,” said Francine Mendiola, a cousin of Cpl. James Pena and a native of Yuma, Ariz., while holding Pena’s one-year-old nephew, Kainoa. “We’re really happy to have him back.”
The family affair brought out emotions and a sincere form of recognition of the toll a tour in Afghanistan can take on everyone involved.
“My son got back to back deployments,” said Adilberto Gomez Pena, the father to Cpl. James Pena and 10-year Navy veteran. “He’s a young kid, a good kid; he volunteered for this one.”
Marking the end of a deployment is always cause for celebration. However, the day also drove home the deep appreciation families, friends and the greater Yuma community have for what it means to have those you love and deeply respect close by.
“I’m very happy to be home,” said Lane. That afternoon, everyone in VMA-211’s hangar shared his sentiment.