“My Kind of Homecoming” by Ab Maldonado

Am I being punked right now? Why are we waiting around for hours on end? Why isn’t the armory opened? How is it possible that the crew that stayed here enjoying banker hours and a lax schedule isn’t prepared for our homecoming? You have got to be kidding me! Duly noted!

I remember those thoughts festering in my mind as I watched our Remain Behind Element (RBE) completely mess up our homecoming from deployment. This was unacceptable and it boiled my blood knowing this lackluster performance was the product of one of my peers. It was infuriating to see the clueless look on his face when I asked him how he could let this happen.

To make matters worse, we arrived at the armory at 10am on a weekday and immediately unloaded our bags from the trucks. Although it was reassuring to know our luggage followed us from March Air Reserve Base, it was frustrating to know we didn’t have access to our vehicles to bring our luggage home. It was even more frustrating to feel time move at a snail’s pace waiting for them to open the armory, which finally happened at 2:03pm. It was another few hours before we were reunited with our friends and family. Most of the married Marines grabbed their stuff, hopped in their cars and rolled off into the sunset with their families. As the last man to leave, my heart broke when I saw a single Marine dragging his sea bag uphill to the barracks. I asked my wife for the keys and told her I would be right back. I picked him up and drove him up the hill to the barracks, only to find out they didn’t have a room assigned to him. I was livid. There were no music, signs, or beer. How could this happen? Never again!

The following year we deployed to Afghanistan again and returned before Valentine’s Day. This time I was responsible for all the logistics to and from the deployment. We arrived at March Air Reserve Base. This was the time to make it right and show the RBE what a homecoming was supposed to look like. No more lost time and no long walks uphill for the last mile. It’s go time!

Months before our arrival, I coordinated with the RBE to ensure a seven-ton truck along with two quadruple containers, two moving trucks, and three 55 passenger buses arrived at March Air Reserve Base when we landed. The truck was pre-staged in our motor pool the day before we were expected to arrive. The driver and armorer were ready and standing by for the confirmation we were on our final connecting flight. The serialized roster of weapons and optics was the bane of my existence. I must have worked on that thing for a week straight. It was worth it though. Once we arrived in California, clean weapons and optics were accounted for by serial number and turned into our armorer who relinquished our chain of custody. A smile crossed my face from ear to ear knowing the hardest part was behind us. We loaded our bags in the moving trucks and waited for the Commanding Officer’s safety brief. We all boarded the buses. Family, friends, good times, and cold beer were moments away. Our next and final stop was the barracks where we would drop off our bags. Both married and single Marines met up with family and friends who were there to help them with their luggage and enjoy a well-deserved beer. The Family Readiness Officer worked with spouses to create a true welcome home environment by decorating the barracks with “Welcome Home” signs. As the buses pulled up the excitement filled the air; it was great to see everyone smiling with great music in the background and to finally hear the sound of someone cracking open a cold Corona. This was my kind of homecoming!