View Full Version : Marines major is there for his returning son

03-08-07, 06:45 AM
Marines major is there for his returning son

11:08 PM PST on Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Press-Enterprise

Video: A military reunion

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE - Maj. Jim Bullard figures he's greeted 75 planeloads of Marines bound for or coming home from Iraq in the four years since that war began.

Bullard, 53, is the executive officer for the 452nd Air Mobility Wing at March Air Reserve Base, the West Coast hub for Camp Pendleton and its Marine units flying into combat or returning from wartime deployment. He's an Iraq War veteran himself, having completed a six-month tour in 2005-06 that took him to Baghdad, Mosul and Basra to help rebuild the country's infrastructure.

On Wednesday, Bullard was back on the flight line to welcome a very special arrival: his son.

Marine Cpl. Gabriel Bullard returned from his first combat tour as a supply specialist stationed near Fallujah.

"Here he comes," Jim Bullard shouted as the younger man made his way down stairs outside the March hangar. "I'm very proud of his service."

The two threw bear hugs around each other and minutes later, Dad made a call to Gabriel's mom, Belinda, at the family home in Murrieta. Gabriel plans to spend several days in his old room, the one decorated with a Marine Corps flag.

"This hasn't really sunk in," said Gabriel Bullard, 26. "It's really nice to be able to come home and have your dad greet you. He was here when I left and I knew he'd be here when I got back."

Gabriel Bullard spent seven months in Camp Al-Taqaddum, home to a large logistics and supply center. His duties included buying all sorts of hardware, known in military parlance as "bullets, beans and blankets" and making sure it got to Marines on foot patrols and driving Humvee convoys through the region's hot spots. He and the others in his outfit, the 1st Marine Logistical Group, learned to work despite regular mortar and small-arms fire attacks.

"You put on your helmet and body armor and go to work," he said. "It's not that bad."

Gabriel Bullard took a somewhat unusual path to the Marines.

Rather than join right out of high school like many other recruits, he earned a degree in finance from San Diego State University before reporting to boot camp. He applied to and was accepted for post-graduate work in San Diego but then decided to deploy to Japan with the Corps. He spent some of his off-hours in Iraq studying Japanese.

His father, who joined the military during the Vietnam War and later earned a degree in pastoral theology, said he's deeply moved every time he greets Marines at the March base. It's "soul cleansing," he said.

Jim Bullard shakes the hand of every Marine officer and enlisted member. He then pats them on the back, wishes them luck and thanks them for a job well done.

He shed tears over the death of Marine Cpl. Christopher Zimny, 27, who was killed in 2005. Zimny had befriended Bullard's family during a brief stay at March before flying to Iraq.

Jim Bullard said he cried, too, while in Iraq, when reading accounts of Americans killed in action that appeared all too frequently in the military's newspaper, Stars and Stripes.

"You wonder sometimes whether these guys are dying for nothing," he said. "Then you tell yourself that they are making a difference."

Jim Bullard said he receives notices of all American casualties in Iraq, and prays for them and their families. His tour in Iraq increased his understanding of the hardships faced daily by U.S. troops, making him more appreciative of their sacrifice. He's gone through rocket attacks and mortar fire, too.

"I want them to know that I appreciate what they're doing and I'm glad they're home and safe," Jim Bullard said. "I don't take for granted what's going on over there. It's costing us a lot."

Reach Joe Vargo at 951-567-2407 or jvargo@PE.com