By John Burton
RED BANK — The sense of anticipation was palpable, as families and other loved ones gathered at the Monmouth Armed Forces Reserve Center last Thursday to await the arrival of their loved ones.
The mood at the Reserve Center was celebratory because these mothers and fathers, husbands, wives, children and well-wishers knew that these Marines were coming home safe.
The crowd was awaiting approximately 38 U.S. Marines, who were on the last leg of their journey home from a seven-month deployment in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as members of the Corps’ 6th Motor Battalion, headquartered at the reserve center.
“I know he’s coming home and he’s here and he’s safe. I can hold him,” said Debbie Foley, Howell, whose smile said it all, as she anxiously awaited the return of her son, Lance Corporal Russell Peter Surdi Jr.
Foley, who waited with many family members, said Surdi had been wounded while serving in Afghanistan and had been awarded the Purple Heart. He turned 23 while on deployment. But “He’s OK,” she quickly added.
Latisha Robinson, who lives in Mulllica Hills, in South Jersey, said the welcome home gathering was “ the complete opposite,” of the atmosphere when her husband, Sergeant Markee Robinson left for his deployment.
“When he’s coming home, you’re happy because you don’t have to worry about the stress.”
When her husband returned, from what was his second tour, Latisha said she would, “love him, tell him I missed him,” and tell him he’s “staying home this time.”
The Marines were reservists assigned to the battalion and serving at Camp Leatherneck, where they were responsible for providing transportation for personnel and materiel, often through strife-ridden areas and some real hot spots laden with improvised explosive devises (IEDs), said Lt. Col. Peter Mahoney, the battalion’s inspector instructor.
When the bus arrived, with a police escort, and the Marines stepped off, the cheers were deafening.
“It was a tough time. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, what’s going to happen?’” said Rahway resident Luciana Pires, as she waited for her son, Corporal Valter Pires.
Valter said he was equally happy to be home and had immediate plans. “I’m going to eat some Portuguese food and ride my motorcycle around the block,” he said.
When Andrea Kunak finally saw her son, Sergeant John T. Sharkey, she said, “I don’t have the words to express myself.”
Sharkey’s grandmother, Martha Szaro said, “I’m so happy he’s home,” as it was his third tour.
Szaro’s granddaughter and the granddaughter’s husband have also served in combat, with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. “We got a lot of them,” serving, she said of her family. “I’m proud, I’m proud of them all.”
When Surdi was finished hugging and kissing and being hugged and kissed he said, “It feels amazing, it really does.”
His next mission was, “go have a beer,” he said.
“I can sleep and not worry now,” with her son home safely, Foley said. But then she thought for a moment and added, “except for all the sons and daughters still over there.”