Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. -- Kaydence is almost 2 years old. She likes blowing kisses and playing with her 8-week-old baby brother. She really likes Gatorade. And she loves her daddy.
Just after midnight October 9, Kaydence gave her dad a goodbye kiss before he boarded a bus and deployed to Afghanistan with Regimental Combat Team 7, 7th Marine Regiment. Kaydence will be almost 3 years old before she gets to see him again.
The Marines and sailors of RCT-7, 7th Marines, departed the Combat Center for the Helmand province, Afghanistan, where they will be taking over as the senior ground combat element in the area.
Among their numbers are infantrymen, radiomen … and a small handful of women.
The unit augmented three women into their ranks, this being one of the first times they have done so. All three will be filling support roles, and all three volunteered for the positions.
Sgt. Mariajose Borja, who came from Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, in Camp Pendleton, Calif., said this was something new for her, too. She spent the last few months training side-by-side with her new brothers-in-arms, and said she received an immediate welcome into the unit.
“It’s been great,” Borja said. “They’ve all been very respectfully, and treated me as part of them from day one.”
This reaction was not a surprise to unit leadership at all, though.
“Colonel Renforth (commanding officer, 7th Marines) was very adamant that once you’re a part of this command, you’re a part of this command,” said David Plaster, family readiness officer, 7th Marines. “With women in combat units being more accepted, they looked for whoever best met the qualifications for the job.”
The team will be gone for about a year, and the families left at home will have their own battles to overcome, waiting for their Marines to come back and trying to keep a semblance of regular life going.
Of the families gathered under the street lights before dawn, there were young families of newlyweds, brand new babies and fiancés. There were husbands and wives with decades of partnership under their belts. There were mothers and fathers and nephews and best friends.
For some, like Lindsay Vantassel, who has only been married to her sailor for a month, this will be the first time facing a deployment. For others, like Maggie Jimenez and her 9-year-old daughter, Katie, this is just another deployment in a long list of them.
“This is maybe three or four times now; it never gets easier,” Jimenez said. “They say you’ll get used to it. You can’t. And kids, kids get older. They start to know more.”
The families are not expected to deal with this by themselves. In fact, the unit is doing what they can to keep families connected to each other and to the unit’s leadership.
“We want to make sure they know that even though the Marines and sailors are forward deployed, there is still a support element for them here,” Plaster said.
There will be at least one spouse event a month until the unit returns, and plans for Halloween, Thanksgiving and holiday dinners are already underway, he added.