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thedrifter
03-23-08, 09:42 AM
Midnight run unites Marines, families after perilous duty


Sunday, March 23, 2008

From staff reports

Last week, the nation briefly focused on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war and the much-debated justification for waging it, but for nearly two dozen families scattered across Central Texas, another date became far more important.

Early Saturday, just after midnight, a bus rolled up to Waco’s Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center on New Road, and 21 Marines, most in the Reserves, stepped out into the parking lot.

They quickly assembled in formation, stood at attention, then huddled for a minute-long briefing with their site commander before joyously spilling into the welcoming arms of family members after about seven months in Iraq.

It was a homecoming punctuated by laughter and illuminated by flash bulbs.

One woman, gazing adoringly at her man as he stood at attention and the crowd of about 60 waited, gushed to her brother-in-law: “I forgot how hot he is.”

Each man in Ordnance Maintenance Company, 4th Maintenance Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group, had his priority early Saturday morning. For Staff Sgt. Nicky Jones, 26, of Waco, it was a chance to lay eyes on his 11-week-old daughter, Lyndzi, an obsession while serving in Iraq.

Wife Shanna, 26, said Nicky was so caught up in the birth of his second child that he maintained phone contact with her through most of her labor and delivery.

“He even got to hear her first cries,” she said.

And if she didn’t e-mail a new photo of Lyndzi to him every other day, she said, “I heard about it.”

For most of the midnight hour this weekend he cradled Lyndzi and 21-month-old Chandler.

For Gunnery Sgt. Duane Cowart, 42, of Hamilton, his priority was also family, including wife Carol and four daughters, though he admitted another mission as well.

“A good steak dinner would be nice,” he said, smiling. “We had steak while I was over there, but, well, let’s just say I’d like a good steak dinner.”

The company, mostly deployed to a region between Ramadi and Fallujah, west of Baghdad, and largely devoted to repairing everything from artillery to tanks, heard a brief speech from Waco Mayor Virginia DuPuy, then ignored the food provided by Cotton Patch Restaurant and Big Daddy Custom Catering to instead relish family and friends.

Much of the food was enjoyed earlier by family members during the long wait Friday evening.

Most of the returning Marines offered no specific insights on the skyrocketing price of gasoline at home, the increasingly acrimonious presidential campaign hinging heavily on a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq or even national contemplation of a sixth year in Iraq.

Those who commented said only that things are better in the region because of U.S. involvement.

“I find that our being there provides stability to the region,” said Sgt. Sean Forquer, 26, of Hewitt, in between hugging his wife, Barbara, who heads local volunteer referral services for Marine families. “The place I was at, we didn’t have any mortar attacks by insurgents, we didn’t have any instances of insurgents breaking through the wire.”

Forquer said he and fellow Marines have occasionally discussed the presidential race but have lots of catching up to do because it’s “hard to learn much from three-month-old magazines.”

For the moment, more important things loom, such as reacquainting himself with home.

“I missed the scenery, not seeing the trees,” he said. “Out there (in Iraq), it’s rolling desert, rolling desert. It’ll be nice to feel the wind blow and not get a face full of sand.”

Ellie