For several hundred area families, their Christmas presents were wrapped in cammies, carrying rucksacks and arrived a few days early.
The first wave of Marines and sailors part of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit returned to Camp Lejeune Tuesday morning, with the remaining more than 2,500 all home by Christmas.
The 22nd MEU has been deployed since June taking part in operations to defeat the Islamic State in Libya as well as humanitarian aid and multinational operations, and trainings throughout the Mediterranean.
Three ships of the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group included the USS Wasp, USS San Antonio and USS Whidbey Island and spent time conducting exercises and operations Exercise Noble Shirley 2016 in Israel; Exercise Sea Breeze, a multi-national naval exercise in Ukraine; and a non-combatant evacuation operation exercise with the U.S. Embassy-Muscat, Oman and Royal Omani Police.
Morgan Williams was among about 100 others braving the cold waiting for their loved ones to return Tuesday at the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines Command Post.
Williams’ husband, Zach, is a corpsman with the Navy.
The MEU was the first deployment the couple faced together, Williams said.
“I just finished finals so I have been stressed with that,” she said. “This is my present for both that and Christmas this year. I think Christmas came early for everyone here today.”
A welcoming party of seven awaited Lance Cpl. Stephen Powell.
His older sisters and mom, as well as three nieces, Allie, Olivia and Hannah and nephew Miller had made the trip from Georgia to welcome him home.
“This is the best Christmas gift ever,” Powell’s mom Melanie Eley said. “We are so proud of him. We’ve shed a lot of tears worrying about him, but have also shed a lot of tears of pride and joy for what he is doing.”
Sisters Laura Ebersberger and Jessica McGarity were also proud of what their little brother had been doing for the last six months.
Swarmed by Ebersberger and McGarity, Powell was welcomed home with tears and hugs, a special gift wrapped in a pink blanket.
“He gets to meet his niece, Hannah, for the first time,” McGarity said. “She is only five months old.”
Over the next several days Marines and sailors from the 22nd MEU will continue to return home, earlier than originally planned, Public Affairs Chief Gunnery Sgt. Matt Epright said.
Returning with an advanced group a few weeks ago, Epright said coming home never changes.
“Every time you come back you are full of joy and complete happiness to be reunited with your family,” he said. “There is also the part of coming home knowing you completed something and were a part of important missions for not only the , but the nation as well.”
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