One little princess finally got to bring her king back to his castle.
As the Marines and sailors of 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines stepped off of the buses marking the end of a seven month deployment to Okinawa, Japan, 3-year-old Cadence Audinwood, dressed for the occasion in jewels, a tiara and a shiny dress, searched the crowd for her father.
“I can’t ... wait for him to read books to me,” Cadence said shyly before the buses pulled up. She planned to give her dad a big hug and kiss that would make up for every one she missed while he was gone. “I missed him ... I missed him a whole lot.”
Her bashfulness turned to joy as her father ran toward her from the bus and the two embraced. Gary Audinwood Jr. then took turns hugging his 10-month-old daughter Claire and his 2-year-old son, Colton.
“You build up all this excitement and anticipation just waiting to see them,” said Audinwood, a 25-year-old corpsman from Campbell, N.Y. “It’s the only time in life something is just as awesome as you expect. Seeing your family after a deployment is the greatest feeling in the world.”
The unit’s deployment to Japan resulted in smaller elements being sent to various countries throughout Southeast Asia for training and humanitarian missions, but overall, the deployment went much slower than his previous deployment to Afghanistan, he said. Having an assigned mission in Afghanistan, according to Audinwood, is much different than the mission in Japan because there is no real downtime in Afghanistan while in Japan, the downtime is abundant.
“Things people just don’t know about deployments are the sacrifices our families make,” Audinwood said. “My wife and I have been married for four years and have only truly been together for two of them. The only good part is that you’re always in the honeymoon stage. It never gets boring but the time away isn’t very fun.”
The time away from family, regardless of where he may be deployed, makes him appreciate the time they do have together. Deployments like those to Japan make him happy because his wife worries less. While the unit did not take part in combat operations, Audinwood and his fellow corpsman took time throughout the deployment to teach the junior sailors and Marines about combat trauma from their first-person experiences.
For his wife, Jessica, 30, the hardest part of this deployment was having children old enough to know that their father wasn’t home. Skype helped remedy the situation.
“Him being able to communicate with us made things a little easier,” she said. “You have to deal with everything that is thrown at you which is tough when you’re all alone but because you talk all the time, he wanted to help so much but just couldn’t because of the distance. It’s a different kind of deployment to get used to. ...I’m just glad he is finally home.”
Father-in-law Gary Audinwood Sr., 58, stayed with Jessica and enjoyed helping with his grandkids. One of the highlights, he said, was building block castles with Cadence so Colton could destroy them. He was also given makeovers by his granddaughter — and yes, he pretended to be princesses.
Time with his son’s family helped, but nothing gave him peace of mind while his son was deployed.
“I was worried just like any father would be throughout a deployment but I didn’t worry like I did when he was in Afghanistan,” Gary Audinwood Sr. said. “Having retired three years ago, I was always taught that family comes first, so I loved every minute I got to spend with my family ... This was just amazing and I loved it.”
As the battalion commander, Marine Lt. Col. Aaron Cunningham said the job the Marines and sailors did while forward deployed and the amount of personal and professional readiness displayed in order to be ready for the variety of missions required of them made him proud.
“The physical environment (compared with Iraq or Afghanistan) is different but the need to be ready stays the same just like anything else,” Cunningham said. “Being forward deployed outside of a combat zone is truly unique. My message as we move forward is to continue with the successes ...and to not forget that while we are at Camp Lejeune, we are still an operational battalion. ... They need to be ready.”