Friday night was a long time coming for 80 Idaho Marines. Seven months — more than 200 days and nights — away from families, friends and home came to an end when they stepped off a plane and onto Idaho soil and got their first whiff of sagebrush, cottonwoods and fall-tinged air.
"It is good to be home," said a weary but elated Staff Sgt. Matt Egelston, who was surrounded by an entourage of 16 family and friends.
Several hundred people crowded into Boise Airport terminal to welcome home the Marine reservists. The air filled with waving balloons, flags, signs and banners and small children perched on the shoulders of adults.
The crowd let out a collective cheer as the first Marines started descending the stairs shortly after 9 p.m.
"We saw him," shouted Egelston's teary-eyed mom, Joan.
His wife, Shelley, said Matt is looking forward to spending time with his family, eating at Sonic and going deer hunting in the Danskin Mountains. "He wants Sonic so bad," Shelley said.
His father, Lee, and mother plan to cook him his favorite meals — venison and tamale pie.
A crew from CTA Architects and Engineers unfurled an 8-foot-long banner designed to welcome home co-worker Sgt. Mike Dupras.
Troy Bingham, Tom Dietrich, Tom Poremba and Scott Wilson held the banner, eyes focused on the escalator as they watched for Dupras to descend.
"We are glad he's home," said Wilson. "We want him to enjoy some time with his family and then get back to work — we have a lot of work ready for him."
The Lazalde family drove from Driggs to greet Lance Cpl. Fernando Lazalde. His sister, Raquel, brought a brown enamel bucket filled with some of his favorite candy, jerky and root beer. His father and mother, Salvador and Rosalba, said home-cooked meals are a priority for Fernando, especially Rosalba's flour tortillas.
The long journey home from Iraq required a nearly two-week stop in Camp Lejeune, N.C., where the Marines took demobilization classes and prepared to return home.
The returning Marines are part of the Boise-based Company C, 4th Tank Battalion and 4th Marine Division. While in Iraq they split into three groups. Some hooked up with Alpha Company 1st Tank Battalion in Hit in north-central Iraq; others served with Bravo Company 2nd Tank Battalion near Fallujah, west of Baghdad; and the largest group joined the 2nd Military Police Battalion in Ramadi, northwest of Baghdad.
The Marines worked in some of the most dangerous areas in Iraq, often enduring long hours working in 100-plus degree temperatures inside tanks.
Although glad to be home, many Marines are leaving something valuable behind.
Many of the men and women serving in Iraq formed new friendships and close bonds with their comrades. Burke Dana said his son, Jordan, an active-duty Marine (see his story above), is glad to be coming home for two weeks. Jordan told his dad he's made such close friends in Iraq, that while he is home he is going to miss them as much as he missed his family while he served the last seven months in Iraq.