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thedrifter
02-25-07, 08:39 AM
Navy medics make it back home
Hospitalmen return after 6 months in Mideast

BY LUCIA WALINCHUS
The Post and Courier

After six months of separation from her husband, Erin Mitchell was ready for him to come home from the Middle East.

"I'm anxious," Mitchell said with a schoolgirl squeal. "I'm excited."

She decorated her car; bought balloons; made a "welcome home" sign; and even dressed their son, 21-month-old Austin, in his own desert camouflage.

Her in-laws flew in from Oklahoma and helped her plan the surprise party for his arrival: a Christmas/New Year's/Birthday/Valentine's Day Bash.

"I bought every balloon," she said.

Seven sailors, including her husband, from Naval Health Clinic Charleston were returning to the Lowcountry after working at the Expeditionary Medical Facility in Kuwait.

On Saturday, Austin enjoyed his trip to Charleston International Airport. With awe, the toddler pointed out airplanes, police on their bicycles, and his greatest surprise of all.

"When I left, he wasn't talking," Hospitalman 2nd Class M. Shane Mitchell said, holding his son. "He's not a baby anymore. He's a little boy."

In Kuwait, the sailors helped wounded sailors and Marines who had to be evacuated from the front lines.

Of about 10,000 sailors stationed in the Middle East, about half are in the medical corps. Because Marines are in the Department of the Navy, they rely on Navy corpsmen to provide medical support.

The unit often had to improvise, Mitchell said, and to adapt to changing conditions.

"Sometimes the doctors would say, 'Hey, I need you to make this kind of splint, or this kind of whatever.' Good thing we have the Internet, because I could just Google that and find out what it was," he said.

Hospitalman 2nd Class William Morris said working in Kuwait could be described in one word: hot.

"When we got there, it was 138 degrees," he said. "When we left, it was 40 or 50 at night and then up around 80 during the day."

Morris arrived to a flurry of excitement as his family greeted him at the airport.

His 10-month-old cried, but his other three children, a niece, a nephew, his parents and his wife bombarded him with brightly colored balloons and big bear hugs.

The separation was tough, his wife, Valerie Morris, said, especially taking care of the kids by herself.

"The first month, I just had one night when it all hit me," she said. "But then after that it was OK. I just lived every day and just got through it."

Reach Lucia Walinchus at lwalinchus@postandcourier.com or 937-5921.

Ellie