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Capt. Sarah Spradlin puts her almost 7-month-old daughter, Alex, into the car Wednesday. Alex's Dad, Capt. Dev. Spradlin, a company commander with 9th Engineer Support Company, deployed a month before she was born.
Capt. Sarah Spradlin puts her almost 7-month-old daughter, Alex, into the car Wednesday. Alex's Dad, Capt. Dev. Spradlin, a company commander with 9th Engineer Support Company, deployed a month before she was born. (Megan McCloskey / S&S)

His replacement was almost there.

“I’ll carry his stuff from the [plane] to this office personally,” Support Company commander Capt. Dev Spradlin joked Monday morning, the day the new guy was flying in.

“I’ll tell him, ‘This is your chair, sit here. This is your computer.’”

For Spradlin and the rest of 9th Engineer Support Battalion, the countdown for home is on in earnest now that their replacements have arrived at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq.

The Marines and sailors from Okinawa have about two weeks left before completing their seven-month Iraq deployment, and a few spoke by phone this week to Stars and Stripes about their anticipation of going home.

“I try not to think about it too much. The more you think about it, the longer the days take to go by,” Staff Sgt. Joshua Ladd said. “But that’s extremely hard because we have our walking countdown: the chaplain.”

Lt. Alan Snyder, 9th ESB’s chaplain, has been keeping track of the time left pretty much since day one at Taqaddum, using the bigger dates — Thanksgiving, Christmas — as milestones. And there were a couple of personal time markers, too.

Like when there were 30 days left until he got kicked out his office next to the commanding officer so the incoming battalion’s commander could have a desk — something he happily announced, said Lt. Col. Mark Menotti, the 9th ESB’s commanding officer. With 8th Engineer Support Battalion out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., already at Taqaddum, there are almost twice as many Marines in the same amount of space.

“We’ve been going through that dance of sharing the same desk and the same computers,” said Maj. Patrick Hittle, the battalion’s executive officer.

“No one is allowed to lean back or get comfortable,” Ladd joked about working with extra Marines in his already cramped, hallway-like office.

The pace is still hectic for 9th ESB as they help the new battalion learn the ropes.

“There can be no operational pause in the support that we’re providing to all the units we normally support,” Hittle said.

Menotti said he’s always reminding the Marines to stay focused.

“I know it’s human to think about the reunion, but I need their mind/body in the game when they are doing turnover missions — especially when going outside the wire,” he wrote in an e-mail. “They cannot be distracted.”

Ladd said they’ve been told to maintain a professional attitude.

“Everyone is extremely happy and relieved — and trying to keep it under wraps,” he laughed. “Walking around the camp saying ‘neener, neener, neener’ is not professional.”

They’re trying to be particularly sensitive to their replacements. Still, they can’t help but think — at least a little — about what they’ll do when they get home.

Spradlin has an infant daughter he’s never seen.

“I can’t wait. I cannot wait,” he said. “I waited nine months for her to come out and seven more months to see her.”

Hittle, too, is looking forward to family time. “I’ll ignore the phone for a while, I think,” he said. “No e-mail and no phone.”

Ladd said they’ve been told to maintain a professional attitude.

“Everyone is extremely happy and relieved — and trying to keep it under wraps,” he laughed. “Walking around the camp saying ‘neener, neener, neener’ is not professional.”

They’re trying to be particularly sensitive to their replacements. Still, they can’t help but think — at least a little — about what they’ll do when they get home.

Spradlin has an infant daughter he’s never seen.

“I can’t wait. I cannot wait,” he said. “I waited nine months for her to come out and seven more months to see her.”

Hittle, too, is looking forward to family time.

“I’ll ignore the phone for a while, I think,” he said. “No e-mail and no phone.”

Instead, he said, he’ll help out with his sons’ Scout activities and fullfil a Valentine’s Day card promise to his 9- and 7-year-olds that he would take them on a bike ride.

“I want to go surfing, too,” Hittle said. “There’s a lot of time to think out there with no one bugging you.”

Lance Cpl. Adam Krol, who already is looking for ways to get back to Iraq, said he isn’t all that thrilled to get back on Okinawa, but he is “looking forward to going out on the town and hitting up the steakhouses.”

Ladd wants a re-do on a pre-deployment trip to Okuma he and his wife were on before a typhoon interrupted it. And, he said, he needs to satisfy a major craving for Taco Bell.

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