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thedrifter
03-24-06, 08:55 AM
It’s been a long seven months’
March 24,2006
CHRIS MAZZOLINI
DAILY NEWS STAFF

“I just know they’re coming soon,” said Amber Sawyer, a bunch of balloons clutched tightly in her hand. “My heart is starting to beat fast, and my chest is hurting.”

Sawyer, the wife of Staff Sgt. James Sawyer, has the usual homecoming jitters. It’s a strong case of the excitements with a few symptoms of nervousness.

“It’s the waiting, the anticipating,” she said as she played with her 2-year-old daughter, Jocelyn. “The excitement. It’s like being a newlywed all over again.

She wasn’t the only one with nerves Thursday as hundreds of Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines returned to Camp Lejeune from a seven-month deployment to Iraq’s western and chaotic al Anbar province. The entire battalion, about 900 strong, has been returning to Lejeune in groups over the past week.

The battalion is one of the last of the 2nd Marine Division’s infantry units returning from Iraq — 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines is due back sometime in April — and 3/6’s Marines will add to an area already swelling with thousands of leathernecks who have put in their time in the war zone during the last year.

“It’s been a long seven months,” said Michele Wallenta, the mother of Sgt. Sean Wallenta. “He’s our only child. I’m just elated, totally elated. And very, very blessed.”

This is not Wallenta’s first deployment — he’s been in the Corps since 1997 — but his mother said it doesn’t make it any easier. While worry always nagged at her, she said it’s important to have faith.

“In order to be able to function, you have to remember he’s doing his job and doing his job well, and he’ll be okay,” she said.

During the deployment, the battalion engaged the enemy and helped train Iraqi soldiers. They also provided security during last year’s crucial votes for the Iraqi constitution and the elections.

Eight Marines were killed and 67 were wounded in Iraq, said 1st Lt. Barry Edwards, a 2nd Marine Division spokesman.

One of those wounded was Cpl. Jamie Shirley, 22, from Sumter, S.C., who has been waiting for months for the rest of 3/6 to come home.

Shirley was shot in the knee Nov. 5 at the beginning of Steel Curtain, a large-scale operation to hunt down insurgents and weapons caches. He was pinned on a roof by gunfire, trying to protect himself behind a wall. Then a bullet broke through the wall and lodged itself in his leg.

“This will be good,” he said. “I can’t wait to see them. I’m glad I can be here when they get here.”

While he’s excited to see them, he said its been hard sitting back in America.

“It’s hard leaving your guys over there, knowing they have to go through all that crap and you’re sitting back here in the safe world,” he said.

But Shirley wasn’t sitting alone for long. Sawyer’s premonition proved correct as a line of buses was soon cruising up the road and being met by shaking signs and happy shouts.

Tears welled up in Sawyer’s eyes when her husband hopped off the bus and walked over to her with a grin on his face. He hugged his wife, looked at his daughter and smiled.

“Hey you,” he said.

Contact staff writer Chris Mazzolini at cmazzolini@freedomenc.com or 353-1171, ext. 229.

Ellie