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Homecoming for part of the last major Marine command to deploy to Afghanistan

Cpl. Nickolas Collins meets his son, 6-month-old Karson Collins, for the first time Wednesday morning at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Collins returned early Wednesday from a seven-month deployment to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, with Tango Battery, 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment. Collins' wife, Annette Collins, made a sign saying, "I've waited my whole life to meet you" and dressed Karson in American flag-themed shorts and a shirt printed with "Awesome like daddy" for the occasion.

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — First Lt. Caleb Peterson got back just in time.

The Marine returned home from a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan an hour before doctors were scheduled to induce labor for his wife, who was pregnant with the couple’s third son. The baby was due Monday, Peterson said, but “he waited on me.”

Peterson was one of about 75 Marines with Tango Battery, 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, who returned from Helmand province in Afghanistan early Wednesday morning. Wives, girlfriends and parents gathered outside the barracks under bright lights as early as 3 a.m., while red, white and blue-clad children chased each other in a basketball court flanked with state flags.

More than a dozen people held handmade signs welcoming their heroes home; one on a stroller read, “I’ve waited my whole life to meet you.”

Annette Collins stood near the stroller with her 6-month-old son, Karson. The deployment was Cpl. Nickolas Collins’ first, and he called it “an experience.”

Capt. Mike Wish, the battery’s executive officer, said the unit — made up of a cannon platoon and a high-mobility artillery rocket system platoon — provided general fire support for Regional Command Southwest, headquartered at Camp Leatherneck. Tango Battery is part of I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), which took command of RC-SW in early February. I MEF (Forward) is expected to be the last major Marine command to deploy to Afghanistan.

Peterson, the fire directions officer for the cannon platoon, said that platoon was stationed at Camp Bastion, the British camp co-located with Camp Leatherneck. The cannon Marines worked closely with the British troops and provided fire support for American, British and Georgian infantry troops, he said.

“We shot just about every night” supporting the troops on the ground, Peterson said.

Other Marines said they were disappointed they didn’t get to fire more artillery.

Cpls. Matthew Crockett and Jeff Lilley, both with the HIMARS platoon, said the Marines didn’t shoot as much as they had hoped to.

“I guess they didn’t need us as much, which is a good thing,” said Lilley, who had previously deployed to Helmand province.

Wish said there were “no major security issues” while the battery was in Helmand, and that they did not fire artillery as frequently as when he was deployed there with a similar unit in 2012.

The operational tempo was slower-paced in part because the focus is to make sure the Afghans are taking over the security role in the area, Wish said. As the Afghans do more, the Marines do less.

The Marines are keeping their eyes on the future: Sierra Battery, which replaced Tango Battery, will bring the artillery equipment home when they return to California at the end of the year with the rest of I MEF (Forward).

hlad.jennifer@stripes.com
Twitter: @jhlad
 

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