Posted on: Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Marines return to Hawaii from Iraq
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

KANE'OHE BAY — Seven months had passed since Kat Gabuat last saw her boyfriend, 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Slavens.

The time between the touchdown of his World Air charter flight at 2:52 p.m. yesterday, and the deplaning at 3:11 p.m. of the first of a group of 300 Marines returning from Iraq, seemed like another seven months.

"My heart is in my stomach," Gabuat said as she fidgeted and paced in a hangar. "It's been well worth the wait, but it's been hell."

That wait ended with a chorus of screams, hugs and tears as the Marines and sailors with the 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment streamed off the jet, M-16 rifles still in hand.

Hospital Corpsman Theron Gohde, 24, was still in readjustment mode as he hugged his wife, Jessica, and ran a hand over 8-month-old baby Skyla's blond pigtails after missing more than a half-year of his daughter's growth.

"I honestly don't know how to describe it. There's no words," the Oshkosh, Wis., man said.

The homecoming is part of the biggest redeployment out of Iraq since Hawai'i-based troops began deploying there in large numbers in early 2004.

Altogether, nearly 9,000 Hawai'i Marines and soldiers are in the process of returning to O'ahu.

That includes about 700 Marines and sailors with the 1st Battalion, 12th Marines; nearly 900 Marines with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines; and several hundred more with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362.

Additionally, about 7,000 Schofield soldiers who served more than a year in northern Iraq are mostly back home.

The 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, normally an artillery unit, deployed instead to Iraq last March as provisional military police and escorted convoys, guarded prisoners, manned checkpoints and trained Iraqi police.

Maj. Omar Sanchez, executive officer for the unit's Task Force Military Police, which included several hundred Marines from outside Hawai'i, said the task force operated out of Al Asad Air Base, Fallujah, Ramadi and two locations in far western Iraq, Waleed and Trebil.

Sanchez said four members of the task force were killed by roadside bombs. Among the losses was Lance Cpl. Robert A. Lynch, 20, from Kentucky, who was killed July 24 in Diyala province. Lynch was part of a convoy security team that was attacked.

But Sanchez, who also was in Iraq in 2003, said an alliance of sheiks that rejected al-Qaida in western Iraq has led to a safer environment for U.S. Marines.

"Ramadi used to be the wild, wild west," Sanchez said. "Fallujah, Ramadi — you hardly hear of any significant incidents there anymore."

Cpl. Jaymes Murphy, 20, from Arlington, Texas, was on his first deployment to Iraq after joining the Corps in 2005.

"It was different. It was long, it was hot, and there was a lot of sand," said Murphy, who was at Al Asad. "I'm glad I got to experience it during my first term (in the Corps)."

He was met by his wife, Danielle, who said the reunion was "borderline amazing."

There will be a readjustment period for the Marines, but one family clearly hopes it's quick. On the back window of a Nissan Pathfinder in the parking lot was written "Welcome Home Dad" in temporary paint. On the side window, the family added: "There's a load of dishes for you."

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