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Veterans from Vietnam, Korea see off Marines deploying to Afghanistan

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Veterans who served in 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company in Vietnam and Korea stood shoulder to shoulder Friday evening to shake the hands of 20 Marines deploying to Afghanistan this Memorial Day weekend.

The elder Marines patted their younger counterparts on the back and told them to keep their heads down as the men boarded a bus to the airport.

The Marines of 1st ANGLICO’s Supporting Arms Liaison Team Charlie are likely the last such unit to deploy to Afghanistan, and may be among the last Marines to come home from the conflict at the end of the year.

Cpl. Jeremy Schacht said he volunteered to extend his contract so he could deploy to Afghanistan with the unit a second time. ANGLICO Marines were among the last American troops to leave Vietnam, he said, and the current ANGLICO Marines recognize that it’s “pretty cool to be closing out another chapter in the book.”

ANGLICO teams typically attach to non-Marine units — including other branches of the U.S. armed services and other nations’ militaries — and serve as liaisons between those units and Marine aviation, artillery and other firing capabilities.

Though the Marines have a general idea of what they’ll be doing once they’re in Afghanistan, they also expect a lot of changes, said Capt. Michael Bezzerides, the officer in charge of SALT-C.

“As the drawdown happens, everyone’s mission is going to be changing,” he said.

Lt. Col. Brian Russell, commander of 1st ANGLICO, is staying at Camp Pendleton this time, but was part of the unit that built Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province in 2009. His Marines will be part of Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, which will close down the base later this year.

“I suspect [the Marines] won’t be as busy as they’d like to be,” but that’s a good thing, Russell said.

Family members and fellow Marines gathered outside the barracks to wish the deploying men well. They snacked on brownies and nachos on the cool, windy evening as children and dogs played nearby.

Staff Sgt. Antonio Henderson’s three-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter began to cry as the bus pulled up to take their father to the airport. Henderson’s wife, Marie, said it is his third or fourth deployment, but it never gets any easier.

“You prepare yourself as much as you can,” she said.

It’s particularly hard when they are living in a state far from family, so they have to rely on the kindness of strangers, she said. Marie is from New York, while Antonio is from South Carolina.

Obdulia Sierra said this is the fourth deployment for her husband, Sgt. Carmelo Sierra, and it has become almost a routine – though that hasn’t kept her from being sad. The couple’s daughter, seven-year-old Juliana, had a particularly rough week after a schoolmate brought up the possibility that her father could be killed overseas.

Obdulia and Carmelo pulled her out of school for a few days and had a big talk with her, Obdulia said, and she was smiling and playing before the bus arrived.

“She’s taking it well right now,” Obdulia said.

After rounds of hugs and tears from Marines and their families, the men shook the hands of those who had gone before and boarded the bus. They drove away past two lines of fellow Marines, who sent them off with a salute.

hlad.jennifer@stripes.com

Twitter: @jhlad

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