View Full Version : Home again, home again

05-04-03, 07:21 AM
Article ran : 05/04/2003
Home again, home again
Cpl. Chris Hogue wasn’t ready to kiss the ground Saturday when he arrived at Camp Lejeune, at least not yet. He was saving that for when he returned to his native Kings Mountain.

But it was a homecoming nonetheless for Hogue, a 20-year-old radio operator assigned to the command element of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Hogue and about 120 members of the 24th MEU arrived at Camp Lejeune’s Geottge Memorial Field House Saturday evening. The group is the advance party for the MEU which has spent the last eight months on deployment and the last few weeks in combat in Iraq. The rest of the 2,100 force MEU is scheduled to return in the next few weeks.

“It’s really good to be back now, but I have to get some real food,” Hogue said. “I can’t really say how I feel right now. I know that I’m here but it hasn’t hit me yet.”

Hogue and others in the advance party prepare for the arrival of the rest of the MEU. Hogue, for example, sets up the radio shop with telephones and Internet access. When USS Nassau starts unloading onto Onslow Beach he’ll be the one relaying information back to his boss.

Hogue was among the Marines on three buses that pulled up Saturday fresh from Cherry Point Air Station, the group’s arrival point in North Carolina from Kuwait.

Wives were wrapped around their husbands and kids were clinging to their legs with squeals of joy. Meanwhile single Marines like Hogue headed to the barracks, which had been empty for more than a half a year.

“I called my family when I got to Cherry Point,” Hogue said. “It’s good to see your friends and a lot of mine are still back there, but I’m anxious to see my family.”

For Marines of the 24th MEU, it’s been a long eight months. They deployed in August aboard the amphibious ships USS Nassau, USS Austin and USS Tortuga when they were supposed to be back in March. The deployment included peacekeeping in Kosovo, exercises along the Horn of Africa and combat in southern Iraq.

For the past few weeks, the troops have been living in holes they could dig, two-man tents or under the stars in hot and sandy conditions.

Hogue and other single Marines returned home Saturday to barracks that looked as fresh as the day they left thanks to the Single Marine Program whose volunteers cleaned the rooms. They did everything from vacuum the carpet to putting up fresh curtains and placing clean linens on the beds.

“It’s important that some effort goes out to welcome the single guys, ages 18 to 25 because that’s our primary demographic,” said Single Marine Program Coordinator Renee Valdov.

There’s a welcome bag next to each pillow containing toothpaste, shaving cream, a toothbrush, a razor and some other immediate needs. Forty rooms on the third deck have all this and large yellow bows on the doors.

The effort wasn’t lost on Hogue.

“It helps out a lot because you’re ready to lay down and relax,” Hogue said.

Valdov said there is plenty of work left to do before the rest of the Marines come home from Iraq. There are about 8,000 rooms.

“We want them to know that there is just as much effort into their return as that of a married Marine,” Valdov said. “We’ve done an incredible job taking care of the immediate family members. We just need to continue to use the same types of procedures to take care of our single Marines.”

For more information on how to volunteer or make donations call (910) 451-0499 or email valdovrm@usmc-mccs.org.

Contact Eric Steinkopff at esteinkopff@jdnews.com or 353-1171, Ext. 236.