As Marine Corps Sgt. Joshua Burley sat on a civilian flight bringing him back home after a six-month deployment overseas, he couldn't stop thinking about the passionate embrace he would give his wife, Jessica, when he landed at Yuma International Airport.
“I was waiting,” he said Friday. “I was playing it over and over in my head. When I came down, I didn't get to see the (welcome home) poster — she threw it at me,” he added with a laugh.
Then they hugged.
“Very tight,” Jessica said gleefully.
“Hard,” Burley admitted. “I was squeezing her. You might want to check for internal damage,” he joked. “It's great to be home.”
Burley, a mechanic for Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), along with about 100 other Yuma-based Marines, has been in the Far East since January, participating in combat training during a tour with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU).
Now that their tour is up, Marines with the unit have been trickling into Yuma on civilian flights over the past few days. The few remaining Marines with VMA-211 are expected home today.
While deployed, VMA-211 initially conducted operations in Thailand with the Royal Thailand Armed Forces during Cobra Gold 2011 before being sent to Japan to aid the Japanese people after the massive earthquake and tsunami in March as part of Operation Tomodachi (Operation Friend).
Cobra Gold is an annual exercise that demonstrates joint and multinational capabilities and improves interoperability between the United States and Thailand. Both countries conducted close-air support and strike missions and performed preflight planning, briefing and debriefing to produce joint after-action reports.
For VMA-211 Capt. Matthew Martinez, this overseas deployment was his first.
“It was a really worthwhile experience. We had really valuable training and had a good time.”
Martinez said it was interesting working with foreign pilots during Golden Cobra. “They have different ways of doing things, but it was good to get out there and see how other countries do business.”
After Golden Cobra 2011 and while on the coast of Japan, VMA-211 provided various forms of support at the request of the Japanese government while other elements of the 31st MEU delivered more than 164,000 pounds of supplies and 7,430 gallons of water to devastated areas in northeast Japan.
On June 2, the 31st MEU was recognized by Japan Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto for its help during Operation Tomodachi.
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.