64 Kaneohe Marines return for the holiday from Afghanistan
Leslie Nichols brought her four children to Honolulu Airport last night to watch "daddy's friends" come home.
Seeing the return of 64 Kaneohe Marines with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, which has been in Afghanistan for seven months, was to prime the kids — who range in age from 1 to 7 — for their own father's homecoming, which is expected some time in January.
"It makes it real for them," she said. "It's actually getting close."
The Marines who got back to the islands last night on three commercial airline flights are an advance party, charged with making preparations for the bulk of the battalion's return. About 800 Marines stationed in Afghanistan are due in next month.
In June, Kaneohe's 2nd Battalion replaced the 3rd Battalion, which is also stationed in the islands, in Afghanistan. Both battalions worked to better the nation's security and stability, Marine officials said.
Sgt. Oscar Rauda held his 2-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter tight last night — rocking them gently as his eyes filled with tears — after getting off the 8:55 p.m. flight from Atlanta, which he shared with 37 fellow Marines.
He said he learned about a month ago that he would be spending Christmas with his family this year. "It was like a miracle," he said, smiling widely at his wife.
Nearby, the battalion's executive officer, Lt. Col. Robert Scott, tried to devote equal attention to three rowdy children, two of whom happily pulled on his uniform while a third hung onto his neck.
His youngest, 2, quietly watched the scene from her mother's arms with some uncertainty and a hint of trepidation. The Afghanistan tour was Scott's sixth deployment overseas. "It gets harder as they get older," he said, looking at his kids. "They grow up so fast."
Before the Marines arrived, families gathered in a baggage terminal to wait, holding "Welcome Home" signs, balloon and lei. All the while, they shouted out conversations over the raucous tunes of a six-member military band, which alternated between Christmas and patriotic songs. And a group of girls danced in a circle near the entranceway singing, "We want daddy, we want daddy."