Cherry Point Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned home Saturday afternoon to family and friends after a nearly nine-month deployment in the Mediterranean Sea.
Jessica Goodridge stood in the large hangar with her children, Gabriele, 6, and Annabelle, 3, waiting for her husband Anthony to arrive.
“It’s been hard,” Cpl. Goodridge said. “There’s been good and bad times. But it has definitely been worth the wait.”
When her husband got off the bus and made his way through the large, cheering crowd, his children shouted and ran to him and clung to his fatigues as he hugged his wife.
“This is really good,” he said. “It’s a nice turnout.”
His children ran and got a sign they made and held it up to him. It had colorful handprints around the edges and the words: “These are the hands that prayed for your safe return.”
Just outside the hanger door, Sgt. Stephen Wilson couldn’t hold back a few tears as he hugged his wife Sara and gave his 19-month-old son Cooper a stuffed bull he brought from Spain.
“This is overwhelming,” Wilson said and looked at his son. “He’s grown so much.”
Wilson’s wife was also wiping away a tear.
“I tried not to cry,” she said. “I was happy when I heard he was coming home. I was also a little nervous because this is the first time I’ve seen him in a long time. But I’m definitely happy he is back.”
Inside the hangar, where there was a long table full of cookies and snacks and a bouncy house for the children and the Marines’ gear, Julie Porath said she drove from Atlanta, Ga. to welcome her son Cpl. Corbin Wildermuth back. She was looking for him through the crowd at the hangar door when he surprised her from behind.
“Oh my gosh!” Porath said.
This was her son’s first deployment, she said.
“This is extra special to us,” Porath said. “When he was aboard ship, he had a very serious reaction to a smallpox vaccine. They were fixing to airlift him to Rota, Spain, but at the last minute he began to turn around and get well. They kept him on the ship and he made his deployment. I’m very happy he is home.”
The homecoming of the 80 Marines was part of two separate returns of nearly 140 Marines serving with Marine Attack Squadron 231 and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467, who returned Sunday.
The 26th MEU sailed through the Mediterranean Sea where they conducted port visits to Limassol, Cyprus, Souda Bay, Crete and Corfu, Greece. On April 12, the MEU sailed through the Suez Canal and into the 5th Fleet area of responsibility, which includes the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Arabian Sea, according to a press release.
The MEU served as the U.S. Central Command crisis response force, responsible for a range of contingency planning and operations. In addition, the Marines and sailors teamed up with foreign militaries during Theater Security Cooperation exercises in Oman, Qatar, and Jordan throughout the deployment.
The returning Marines were part of more than 2,200 Marines and sailors assigned to 26th MEU. VMA 231 is of three operational Marine Corps fixed-wing attack squadrons based out of Cherry Point that fly the AV-8B Harrier. The deployment was aboard the ships of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group. The squadron was commanded by Lt. Col. Michael P. Quinto.
Eddie Fitzgerald is a reporter with the Sun Journal.