Marines return home

Twenty-six Marines from one of the Marine Corps' most heavily deployed battalions returned from Iraq yesterday, just as some 150 of their colleagues prepared to ship out next week.

"It's great," said Gunnery Sgt. Miguel Rodriguez as he took a break from issuing orders to a crew unloading gear from a truck at Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe. "My family's here -- it's great to be back home."

It was Rodriguez's second deployment to Iraq with the 3rd Radio Battalion, meaning he has only had just a few months to spend with his 3-year-old son.

Of the 400 troops in the battalion, 100 are deployed, while an additional 150 will leave for Iraq on Wednesday, said Lt. Joseph O'Connor, the operations officer for those in the battalion who have stayed in Hawaii.

Another group is due to leave in December to support another Marine Expeditionary Unit in Iraq.

"We're deployed all the time," O'Connor said. "It's because they have a skill set which is so critical to the Marine Corps."

The 26 who returned yesterday provided secure lines for commanders in Iraq to talk so nobody else could listen in. They would also disrupt enemy communications.

"Sixteen-hour-plus days, sleep when you can, eat when you can," said Rodriguez of his days on the ground in southern Baghdad. "And just helping out."

The battalion served in Iraq from October through last month after leaving Hawaii in June.

A low-key celebration greeted the troops when they pulled up at the base at Kaneohe Bay in a white military bus. A brass band played in the background while a small group of women whose husbands serve in the same battalion held up a white sign that said "Welcome Home."

"It's just a blessing to see these guys come home safe," said Julie Coate, 47, from Hobson, Mont. "My husband's here, and he's not leaving until next week but it's interesting to watch these reunions because you get almost just as choked up almost as when your own husband is coming back."

Kaneohe Marines have suffered a large share of the casualties in the war in Iraq.

A total of 43 Marines from the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, also based in Kaneohe, have been killed in the war. Twenty-six of them died in January when their helicopter went down in western Iraq.

Marine Corps Base Hawaii

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