III MEF Marines, sailors return to Okinawa from Pakistan relief mission
CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — “Remarkable!”
That was the first word out of Petty Officer 1st Class Doyle McClellan’s mouth when asked what he thought about 3-month-old son Charles when the two met for the first time here Tuesday morning.
The father, deployed with Combined Medical Relief Team 3 to Pakistan, wasn’t able to be there for his son’s birth. But the two became acquainted when some 170 Marines and sailors from throughout III Marine Expeditionary Force returned Tuesday from almost a four-month medical and humanitarian relief mission in Shinkiari, Pakistan.
During their deployment, they set up a field hospital, treated almost 15,000 patients and helped deliver more than 6.5 million pounds of relief supplies.
McClellan said he’s been on numerous deployments, including to Iraq, but the latest was by far the hardest because he missed his son’s birth — even though he was with his wife Elizabeth in a roundabout sort of way.
“It just so happened that one of the days I called the hospital to see if she had him, she was in labor,” he said. “So I was on the phone with her during the birth.”
Despite meeting in the flesh for the first time Tuesday, Charles took to his father and didn’t seem to mind all the hugs and kisses from the virtual stranger.
The father said he talked with the family often via Internet camera. “I’ve been looking at him for three months but just haven’t been able to hold him,” said McClellan — who added that he was equally excited to see 7-year-old daughter Lydia.
Waiting for her father outside the 3rd Medical Battalion headquarters, she was easy to spot. She was the one holding a sign reading, “Welcome home Daddy! I love you so much!” Having her dad home, she said, was “awesome.”
Having her husband home, said Elizabeth McClellan, was a relief even though he hadn’t seen their new home: She moved while he was gone.
“There was a lot of support here” while her husband was deployed, she said, her eyes filling with tears, but “there’s nothing like having him home.”
The CMRT-3 commanding officer, Lt. Col. Jamie Gannon, spoke briefly to the troops after they got off the buses outside the battalion headquarters. “The Marines and sailors, especially the young corpsmen, performed remarkably well,” he said.
Gannon said about 70,000 displaced Pakistanis were living in tent villages in the area where the field hospital was set up.
The team’s executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Joe Patterson, said the deployment was about helping people and building bonds. “We’ve built relationships and friendships that will endure,” he said.