CAMP LEJEUNE, NC (WWAY) -- After one of the longest deployments in Marine Corps history, Marines and sailors from the 22nd MEU came home to Camp Lejuene.
Bus after bus, families stood by patiently waiting for their Marine to walk downs the steps.
“I just love him so much. I just can't wait to see him,” said Bonny Manley, who was waiting for her son.
“I saw her when I was on the bus,” said Marine Sgt. Cory Smith. “I was like, she's going to sprint at me, I’m telling you. I was ready for it. I was preparing myself. Got my feet set, made sure I could catch her.”
The more than 2,000 Marines and sailors on the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed months ahead of time. They left last March, headed for Libya in response to the uprising.
“It couldn't have been a better team, both within the MEU and the three ships and the fiberon staff that supported,” said Marine Col. Eric Steidl. “So, at the end of the day it was a great deployment.”
Nearly a year afloat, it was reportedly the longest MEU deployment since the Vietnam War.
“I'm humbled because of the resiliency and the motivation of the sailors and marines,” said Navy Capt. Erik Ross, the Commanding Officer of the USS Bataan. “It would have been very easy for them to feel sorry for themselves and frankly that was not the case.”
There was no denying the time apart was difficult, but for now everyone takes comfort in finally being together again.
“He's my youngest,” said Michelle Smith. “Both my boys are Marines. I’m hoping this is the last deployment.”
With Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's announcement that troops are planned to be out of Afghanistan a year earlier than planned, families we spoke to had mixed reactions. Some were comforted by the thought and others were weary about the decision, saying it may be too hasty.