Fightertown hosts Marines returning from tour in Iraq

23 Sep 2005 | Pfc. Zachary Dyer

Approximately 600 Marines and sailors returning from Iraq were diverted to the Air Station Sept. 15, due to Hurricane Ophelia. The Marines and sailors were from various units based at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., and were originally scheduled to land at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.

The Marines of Marine Aircraft Group 31 and the Air Station were given just 24-hours notice of the diverted warfighters and worked through the night to put a contingency plan in action and be prepared to temporarily host the returning Marines and sailors.

“When I spoke with the MCAS CO, I told him how impressed I was with the quick reaction to accommodate a large number of folks returning from Iraq,” said Col. Robert Walsh, the commanding officer of MAG-31. “Our combined team bent over backwards to make this diversion as smooth and as pain-free as possible for our fellow Marines returning from a combat zone.”

The Marines and sailors arrived on four separate flights beginning at approximately 2 a.m. and lasting until noon, according to Sgt. Branden Marak, the MAG-31 embarkation chief.

Approximately 111 service members were put in rooms at the Bachelor Enlisted Quarters, while the rest were placed in Marine Fighter Attack Squadrons 115 and 122’s hangar, according to Marak.

Volunteers from the United Service Organization provided food and refreshments, while the Air Station provided cots, water, fans and a phone center where the service members could call home, according to Marak.

The Marines and sailors were also allowed to use the various services aboard the Air Station, according to William Snead, the Air Station S-4 officer.

“Basically, they had free run of the base,” Snead said. “They could go just about wherever they wanted to go.”

Frequent runs were made to the post exchange and to Lasseter Theatre, which was showing free movies for the service members. The Marines and Sailors were also allowed to use the showers at the gym to clean up, according to Snead.

Subway was a favorite among the Marines returning from Iraq, according to Cpl Emmanuel Cox, a line mechanic from CLB-8.

“Subway was awesome,” Cox said. “It was so much different than what we have been eating for the last few months.”

The Marines enjoyed their time aboard the Air Station, but most were anxious to be on their way, according to Cox.

“Everyone has been pretty good to us,” Cox said, “But I can’t wait to hang out with my family.”

The diverted Marines and sailors boarded 15 commercial busses bound for Camp Lejeune and departed Fightertown at approximately 4 a.m. Sept. 16.

“They conducted themselves, to a man, in a very professional manner,” Snead said. “Every space they were given was cleaner when they left than when they got here.”