By Cpl. Joshua Young
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Families and friends welcomed home from Afghanistan more than 50 Marines and sailors with I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), Feb. 6.
I MEF (FWD) replaced Camp Lejune’s II MEF (FWD) in Helmand province in early 2012, and took over combat operations in Helmand and Nimroz provinces to establish security and governance. Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, the commanding general of I MEF (FWD) assumed command of Regional Command Southwest March 12, 2012. Regional Command Southwest conducts counterinsurgency operations with the Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to develop Afghan national security force capabilities, support improved governance and economic development and protect the Afghan people.
Russ and Charlotte Phillips traveled from Lambertville, N.J., to show support and attend their daughter’s homecoming, Navy Lt. Kathryn Phillips, a Navy with I MEF (FWD). While Phillips was away on deployment, her father, Russ, rode his bike 6,731 miles, which is the exact distance from Lambertville to Lashkar Gah, in Helmand province, where she spent her deployment.
“It makes us proud to be Americans to see what these young people are doing,” said Russ. “That’s what I’m trying to do here, to stand together with her to show her how proud I am of her and her team.”
The Marines arrived just after midnight and reunited with friends and family, many of which they hadn’t seen in more than one year.
“I’m definitely nervous and excited,” said Janelle Chhabra, 33, from Silver Lake, Kan., while awaiting the arrival of her husband, Maj. Tom Chhabra, a development officer with I MEF (FWD). “We hadn’t been married that long before he left, so we’ll finally get our marriage started after a year.”
The homecoming marks the first wave for I MEF (FWD). The entire unit is scheduled to return by mid-March.
“Family support is their lifeline while they’re gone,” said Charlotte Phillips. “We’re there to support them and let them know there are people who care for them.”