A heartfelt welcome for Marines
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    A heartfelt welcome for Marines
    Families greet unit that recently returned from 7-month duty tour in Iraq.
    By Michael Duck
    Of The Morning Call

    Already bright-eyed at 5:30 a.m., 7-year-old Brandon Tuite dashed around the Marine Reserve Center gym, drop-kicking a worn volleyball. It wasn't cartoons or promises of Easter candy that had dragged him and his siblings out of bed three hours earlier — it was something even better.

    ''A tap on the shoulder — 'We're going to get Daddy!' — and they jumped out of bed,'' said Brandon's mother, Michele Tuite of Sterling Township, Wayne County.

    The Tuite family and dozens of others from the Lehigh Valley and beyond gathered hours before dawn Saturday at the Marine Reserve Center in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, to welcome their fathers, husbands, boyfriends and sons back from a seven-month tour of duty in Iraq.

    Brandon's father, Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Tuite, and 22 other Marines in the 4th Maintenance Battalion deployed to Iraq last summer with the 6th Civil Affairs Group to help with reconstruction and setting up local governments.

    ''They [were] there to help rebuild the infrastructure,'' said Chief Warrant Officer Eugen Lipp. ''Where the rubber meets the road is where these guys work.''

    All 23 Marines returned home safely, Lipp said.

    Michele Tuite, the volunteer who helped coordinate the families, said some drove 21/2 hours to get to the early morning arrival. The Tuites and a few other families were especially tired, having just returned from an early visit with their Marines at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina.

    After returning from Iraq, the men debriefed at Camp LeJeune for several days before getting on an Allentown-bound bus about 7 p.m. Friday, Lipp said.

    As the sky began to brighten about 6:30 a.m. Saturday, word spread that the bus was getting close. The crowd inside the reserve center surged out into the cold, windy morning, straining to see the flashing lights of three state police cars escorting the bus.

    The state troopers blasted their sirens as the bus pulled up, and the Liberty High School Bagpipe Corps struck up the Marines' Hymn. The cheering, flag-waving crowd surged forward as the men filed off the bus.

    Sprinting ahead, 9-year-old Kayle Alcott launched herself into the arms of her father, Master Sgt. Ralph Alcott of Richland Township.

    ''This proves that the job we're doing is worth it,'' said the proud dad, glowing in his family's support.

    While helping with rebuilding in Al Anbar Province, the unit assisted with national elections, helped establish 11 city councils and helped set up and run two ''displaced person camps'' for more than 5,000 people, according to a news release.

    ''He's very proud of what they did over there,'' Kelley Neyhart of Kutztown said of his stepson, Cpl. Guillaume Plante.

    The local scale of the work made it easy to relate, Neyhart said. ''They were able to restore things to towns the size of Kutztown.''

    Al Anbar proved relatively safe, but fighting has dragged on in other parts of Iraq. More than 2,300 U.S. military personnel have died since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003.

    But while grim news from Iraq often makes families worry, Alcott pointed out that the concern often goes both ways.

    ''We catch that glimpse in the chow hall, [a] quick CNN flash or something'' about a shooting or fatal car wreck close to home, he said. ''You know your family's there.…Are your family members safe? Are they not?''

    The prospect of finally catching up kept the Marines far too excited to be sleepy, despite their all-night bus trip.

    ''We've had to be so flexible for the past seven months that this little bit of running around for the past week or so [was] really no big deal,'' Plante said.

    Some families quickly fell back into familiar routines. A few minutes after the men arrived, 4-year-old Kaitlyn Tuite ran up to her father. ''Dad, can you open this?'' she asked, handing him a package of goodies tightly tied with a ribbon.

    Kevin Tuite said the family will soon go to Florida to catch up on some quality time.

    The Marines aren't home-free just yet, Lipp explained: The men have a few more months of active duty, though most will be splitting that time between leave and service at military facilities in the United States. The men don't expect to be sent to Iraq again.

    But for the Alcott family, the reunion will still be cut short: Ralph Alcott's son, 26-year-old Marine Cpl. Jason Alcott, is to be deployed to Iraq this summer.

    ''I'm actually excited to go. It's dangerous, but it's going to be a good life experience,'' the son said.

    ''Plus, I can't let my dad get all the glory,'' he added, smirking.

    About 7:45 a.m., the returning Marines formed up under Ralph Alcott's command one more time. After thanking the families for their support, Alcott gave the men one last order:

    ''You will go to your families and enjoy the day.''


    Last edited by thedrifter; 04-10-06 at 07:16 AM.

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