CAMP PENDLETON -- Megan Parmenter, a pregnant 19-year-old, is just over a week away from having her baby.
She even had a few contractions a day or two ago, and didn't know if she'd give birth before her husband's return on Sunday from a seven-month deployment overseas with the 15th Marine Expeditonary Unit, I Marine Expeditionary Force.
"Not as skinny as I used to be. You may have to lean, but get over here and kiss me, Cpl. Parmenter," wrote his wife on a placard that she tucked behind the stroller of her 16-month old son, Aiden.
Cpl. Cody Parmenter snuck up behind her, their eyes connected, then the kissing began.
"I feel pretty good," Cody said. "He wasn't walking when I left," he added as he held Aiden, who was pulling at his dad's service cap. "I felt a little nervous this morning. Not anymore."
Parmenter and more than 2,400 Marines assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit -- also called MEU -- began returning Sunday and today to Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego from a seven-month deployment to the Middle East, Africa and Western Pacific Ocean. On Sunday, roughly 900 Marines were offloaded from the amphibious transport ships Rushmore and Anchorage, and assault ship Essex -- all moored a few miles off the coastline in north San Diego County.
Beginning at 8 a.m., hundreds of Marines were moved ashore with large hovercraft -- called Landing Craft Air Cushion, or LCAC -- and MV-22 Osprey, a troop transporting aircraft that takes off like a helicopter and tilts its engines to fly like a plane while in flight.
They were dropped off at the Marine base's Camp Horno, where they grabbed their gear dropped off at a landing zone, and then walked a mile with their 80-pounds of gear to the armory to turn in their M-16 rifles. After that they headed over to meet with their families at the Parade Deck, a football-sized asphalt field surrounded by a mess hall and barracks.
By noon, Krystyn Contrero grew anxious as her husband, Juan, hadn't yet shown up. She was busy texting him for a while, then paused to stand, pace in circles, and gaze over at a barrack where her husband was to show his face.
"He hasn't texted me in 20 minutes. I'm beginning to feel like the last wife waiting," she said. "And my phone is dying."
Another Marine, James Murphy, got no further than the edge of the Parade Deck when his four kids -- Izzy, 13; Lexi, 10; Cashlyn, 8; and Morgan, 8 -- barrelled across the field to wrap their arms around their dad, in one big group hug. His wife, Lori, snuggled in for a long kiss.
"This was the hardest deployment ever because I love him so much more," said Lori, who planned to cook him his favorite dish of tacos.
"Fabulous," is all James Murphy could say when asked how he felt.
While deployed, the expeditionary force participated in more than 15 different exercises, including Operation Inherent Resolve, the bombing campaign against the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, according to Marine Maj. Bruce Block.
It also provided aviation security support to President Barack Obama on visits to Kenya and Manila.
There were two deaths during the deployment.
The unit's Lance Cpl. Matthew Determan, 21, of Maricopa, Ariz., and Lance Cpl. Joshua Barron, 24, of Spokane, Wash., died in May when an MV-22 Osprey experienced a "hard landing mishap" at Bellows Air Force Station in Hawaii. Twenty others were injured in the training exercise.
"That was a loss felt by all of us," Block said.