Back safely from Iraq - to greetings of joy

Families, friends greet a Marine unit at BWI

April 01, 2005|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

When her boyfriend left for the war last year, Kelly Harris had not heard of Fallujah. She did not yet know about the Sunni Triangle, Iraqi politics or improvised explosive devices.

All she knew, Harris said, was that her boyfriend, Marine Reserve Lance Cpl. Jason Redmond, had been called to serve his country and that she would have trouble sleeping until he came home.

Yesterday, Harris, 35, waited anxiously at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. After seven months in Iraq, her boyfriend was among 33 troops coming home - to an explosion of joy.

The detachment of 31 Marine reservists and two Navy corpsman from the Baltimore-based 4th Combat Engineer Battalion had spent the bulk of its deployment in the Sunni Triangle, which has seen some of the most heated battles between U.S. forces and Iraqi insurgents.

The Marines had fought and watched fellow soldiers die in the battle for Fallujah. They had ridden the roads nervously, sweeping for hidden explosives. During Iraq's elections this year, they had guarded polling places where danger, they said, seemed only a hair-trigger away.

About 5:20 p.m., families and friends erupted in cheers, waving signs, balloons and American flags, as the returning troops bounded down airport escalators.

Redmond's family had spent days preparing for his homecoming. They made plans to eat at his favorite restaurant. A group of about 35 friends showed up to greet him at the airport. All wore T-shirts - emblazoned with such personal declarations for him as "Proud Sister," "My Hero," and "Mi Amigo" - and buttons laminated with his picture.

Waiting at home

Waiting at home in Elkridge was his dog - wearing a bandana bearing Redmond's picture in battle fatigues, Harris said.

The group was also greeted with handshakes from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who posed with them for photos.

A few feet from the governor, Donna Arrington fussed over her son, Lance Cpl. Korey J. Price, 21.

"Oh, he's changed," she said. "You can hear it in his voice."

When Price left in June, Arrington, 44, of Lanham, said she had tried not to nag him about anything.

`You come home'

"I didn't make him promise anything, no stipulations," she said. "I just told him, `You come home.'"

They had stayed in touch by phone and e-mail, but the past few months were especially tough, she said.

"We had a three-month period with no e-mails, letters or phone calls. I mean, my gracious, call your mother."

Price, however, came home with good excuses and plenty of stories.

He told his family about the fighting and elections in Fallujah, about the hours he spent waiting for something to happen and the horror when something did.

"Something like that changes you," he said. "I have a greater understanding of life now. I know it can't be taken lightly."

Nearby, Sgt. Michael Hall's family huddled around him as he told stories of his own. Hall, stationed in the western part of the Al Anbar province, had kept his e-mails home short and simple, trying not to worry his family.

But now, he was holding nothing back.

"The danger wasn't always the in-your-face kind of thing," he said. "The [Iraqi] adults would be friendly to your face, but you turn your back and everything's fair game."

He learned that firsthand in the city of Hadietha, where his platoon was ambushed and four of his friends were killed, Hall said.

The group from the Baltimore area had not suffered more than minor injuries in Iraq. But the unit with which they served - a battalion from Lynchburg, Va. - lost five Marines.

A tattoo

After talking a bit more about the battle in Hadietha, Hall grew silent and rolled up his sleeve to show his parents, Mike and Robin Hall of White Marsh, a tattoo.

"All gave some," it read, "some gave all."

His father seemed to choke up at the words, and said he was proud of his son.

His mother looked at the black ink doubtfully.

"It's OK," she said finally. "I'm just glad he's home."

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