Okinawa Marines home after Afghan tour
Stars and Stripes November 3, 2009
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa –— Children raced around or played on a jumping castle.
Patriotic homemade signs hung on the walls. And spouses sat in the stands anxiously talking to one another.
Word had spread that their warriors had landed at nearby Kadena Air Base and would soon be back in their arms at Camp Foster field house.
Similar scenes played out at other Okinawa bases Sunday as about 300 Marines from various commands comprising Regimental Combat Team 3 made it home after spending between six months and one year in Afghanistan.
“I got close to God over there,” Sgt. Bennett Nelson said soon after his plane landed at Kadena. “I can’t wait for the 96 (hour liberty) to start.”
He said one of his first orders of business was to “head down to CoCo Ichibanya and order a number 5 chicken cutlet curry.”
It would be a welcome break after a grueling deployment as part of the Special Purpose Marine Ground Task Force, providing security and stability in Helmand province.
“We took the most dangerous province in Afghanistan and provided security with the Afghan security forces. We interacted with village elders and separated the general populace from the insurgents,” spokesman 1st Lt. Kurt Stahl said. “We went into areas where there was nothing blocking the Taliban from moving freely around. Now, people are coming back to the villages and towns, schools are reopening, as well as health clinics. It was a really positive experience.”
When the bus of Marines pulled up to the Foster field house the dozens of spouses, children and fellow servicemembers stood and cheered as the troops entered the building. Families anxiously waited to embrace their loved ones.
Holly Fraser was there to welcome her husband, Cpl. Alexander Fraser. They were married last year, and she moved overseas when he was deployed.
“I missed him so much while he was over there,” she said. “I am going to show him where we live because he hasn’t seen our home yet.”
For Staff Sgt. Pedro Rodriguez, it was a day to meet a new family member: his 6-week-old son, Israel.
“It was very difficult over there without him,” said his wife, Katrina, watching her husband hold his son for the first time. “My dad flew over from Southern California to be with me in the [operating room] when I had the Cesarean section.”
“I am so glad to be back,” her husband said happily. “It was tough over there, but we had great Marines by our sides to take care of each other. Seeing my son for the first time is indescribable.”