Five Marines, all in their 20s and veterans of multiple deployments, returned Saturday to vastly different roles from serving their country in Afghanistan.
One is a farmer, one is a student. One is a financial adviser, one assembles tractors and combines. The last is a maintenance technician at a clothing store distribution center.
Having endured seven months in Afghanistan, their challenge now is to adjust to normal life as regular guys.
"Once again, we commend you for what you've done," 1st Sgt. Alexander Lamberth told them at the Marine Corps Reserve Center in northeast Omaha. "But — now you're back."
The five — Sgt. Anthony Due of Exeter, Neb.; Sgt. Seth Reising of Sioux City, Iowa; Sgt. Matthew Branch of Kearney, Neb.; Sgt. Jorge Carpio of Grand Island, Neb.; and Sgt. John Gilstrap of Shelton, Neb. — flew into Omaha after seven months in Afghanistan.
As about 75 Marine Reservists, many holding American flags, stood around them in the Reserve Center gymnasium, Lamberth alternated between thanking and cautioning the five.
Gradually work your way back into family life. Don't immediately insist on doing things your way. You have nothing to prove to anyone. Drive carefully. Don't blow your money.
"You've barked orders for the last couple months," Lamberth said. "The orders stop now."
Coincidentally, at least three other service members returning from Afghanistan took the same late-morning Chicago-Omaha flight as the five Marines. They were 2nd Lt. Nicole Hansen of Lincoln and Lt. Col. Shawn Zembles of Kansas City, Mo., both members of the Nebraska Air National Guard, and Senior Airman Shaun Crosson, who is stationed at Offutt Air Force Base.
Back at the Marine Center in Omaha, the five ate brats and mashed potatoes with relatives and friends who had met them at Eppley Airfield. Gilstrap's 6-year-old son, Michael, clung to his neck. "I'm goin' everywhere with you," the boy said to his dad.
"If feels great," Gilstrap said. "I'm full now, too, which is good."
The five Marines, of the Engineer Maintenance Company, generally provided protection for fuel convoys being driven by Afghan forces across the dangerous Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. Gilstrap and Carpio had duties related to maintenance of heavy equipment.
Some of the men saw roadside explosions. Branch said rifle and machine-gun fire descended on the convoys at times. "Yeah," he said, "it's a dangerous place."
Reising described the camaraderie he experienced in deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. "There are Marines to your left and your right. That's all you've got over there," he said. "It's enough."
The five will have four days off, return to the Reserve Center for post-deployment training and briefings, then return to civilian life in about a month. Then they will spend one weekend each month in training as Marine reservists.
The five deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan a total of 13 times. Over the past 20 years, a lot of war has been experienced by a small fraction of the nation's population.
Carpio shrugged it off and said: "It was what we were trained to do, pretty much."
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