For Marine battery, a happy return and a brief respite


For a brief moment Tuesday afternoon, the cheering of family members of Marines returning from Afghanistan drowned out the echoing sound of artillery blasts from the training exercises of other troops preparing to deploy soon.

The 129 Marines and sailors of Tango battery of the 5th battalion, 11th Marine regiment were home after a seven-month deployment in Helmand province, arguably the most dangerous place in an increasingly dangerous country.

For Tango battery, it was considered a successful deployment: providing missile and rocket-fire to support infantry Marines fighting entrenched insurgents, including during the February battle for the Taliban stronghold of Marjah. The battery suffered no fatalities.

At home, spouses and other family members waited anxiously. Many tried to avoid radio, television and newspapers lest they hear disturbing news. Different families developed different coping mechanisms.

Becca Digirolamo, 24, whose husband is 1st Lt. Steve Digirolamo, met every Wednesday at the McDonald’s on base with two other wives whose husbands are in the battery.

And what did they talk about every week? “We talked about the deployment,” she said.

“Some days were better than others,” said Dawn Roegge of Rushville, Ill., tears filling her eyes while she waited for her son, 1st Lt. Shon Roegge. “You just stay busy and pray every night for their safe return.”

For many of the families, it was their first deployment. For others, it’s become a way of life. Chona Donnelly’s husband, Capt. Brian Donnelly, was on his fourth overseas deployment.

“You want to do things — but you want to do them together,” Donnelly said. “It’s like having your life on hold until he comes home.”

Fourteen family members from throughout Southern California came to the base to greet Cpl. Raymond Riebl, 20, and take turns providing welcome-home hugs. They wore matching T-shirts with the family name on the front. On the back was the Latin motto Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum (“If you want peace, prepare for war”).

The Digirolamos had planned a trip to the San Diego Zoo with their son, Jackson, born a month after his father deployed.

Lindsay Ieronimo, 21, of Long Beach plans to marry Sgt. Joseph Finn, 23, on Friday. As she waited for the bus bringing the troops from March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, she sat beneath a banner with a picture of the two of them embracing and the greeting “Welcome Home My Love.”

Staff Sgt. Jose Gonzalez, 30, was completing his fourth deployment. His wife, Lisa, 27, and children Isabella, 8, Jose, 10, and Annaya, 4, were there to greet him.

“It never gets easy,” Lisa Gonzalez said of being the stay-at-home spouse. “But at least you know what to expect.”

What Gonzalez and other Marines can expect is a month of leave with their families and then to begin training for another deployment, probably in the latter months of next year.