CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
More than 250 Marines and sailors assigned to the I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) arrived here Feb. 11 after a one-year deployment in Al Anbar province, Iraq.
Family members numbering more than 100 waited anxiously during the early morning hours in mid 30 degree temperatures at Camp Del Mar to see their Marines arriving home after a year-long deployment.
I MEF (Fwd) took part in several significant milestones during their 12-month tour. Iraqi Security Forces assumed responsibility in the Al Anbar province Sept. 1, 2008, and provided security allowing provincial elections to take place without violence Jan. 31, 2009.
Among the returnees was Maj. Gen. John F. Kelly, I MEF (Fwd), who served as Commanding General for Multi National Force-West, headquartered first at Camp Fallujah and then at Al Asad Air Base under Multi National Force-Iraq.
“The expectation [for the Iraqi provincial elections] was for a lot of violence, said Kelly. “We had nearly 100 percent voter registration, no violence, no fraud.
“We take so much for granted as Americans, the freedoms we have. It’s kind of amazing to watch people who are just now getting used to being free.”
Kelly’s area of responsibility was primarily Al Anbar province, the largest in Iraq that covers an area of approximately 53,000 square miles with more than 25,000 U.S. service members, supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Their loved ones have been gone for a year. That’s a long time,” said retired Sgt. Maj. Wayne R. Bell, the family readiness officer for I MEF, “There are a few newborn babies that haven’t seen their father yet.”
Seeing families that have something in common come together is great to see, said Karen Kelly, Maj. Gen. Kelly’s wife and a Teaneck, N.J. native.
“It’s so humbling seeing folks that have sacrificed so much, but yet are so thankful for their loved ones doing what their doing,” said David Marks, father of an infantry Marine and Plato, TX native. “There’s not a dry eye in the house when you see a little child run up to their father or their mother and haven’t seen them for such a long time.”