CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- The crowd cheered and clapped, and camera shutters clicked and clacked as buses filled with loved ones came to a stop next to the 21 Area parade deck.
Marines and sailors with Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan returned home from a historic deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to their families at a homecoming ceremony at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Nov. 6, 2014.
To bring this operation to a close, Regional Command (Southwest) held an End of Operations Ceremony this October during which Marine Corps personnel cased the RC(SW) battle colors for the final time and lowered the NATO, U.K, and U.S. flags, leaving only Afghanistan's flag waving outside the headquarters building in Helmand province.
The homecoming signifies the closure of a sustained, nine-year Marine presence in Afghanistan. With the transfer of authority and handoff of Camp Leatherneck complete, the Afghan National Army gained a military base encompassing nearly 6,500 acres featuring a 11,500-foot-long runway, providing them with the ability to coordinate ground and air operations in Helmand province.
Brigadier Gen. Daniel D. Yoo, commanding general of Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan, said he thinks the Marines should be proud of the things they accomplished.
"I think the pride that we can take as Marines as part of RC(SW) is being able to take an Afghan security force at its infancy and mature it to a professional organization that's very capable and credible with their people and which has done very well in securing that portion of Afghanistan," said Yoo.
The Marines should be confident the skills they taught the ANA will be useful in their success in the months and years to come, according to Yoo.
"It's a historical day for the Marine Corps, but more importantly, it's a historical day for the Afghan National Security Forces," said Yoo. "The security of Helmand province is up to the ANSF, and I am confident in their abilities to continue to succeed."
With the mission accomplished, the Marines are eager to return to their homes, according to Lance Cpl. Donald Cheek, a fixed-wing aircraft mechanic with 3rd Marine Air Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force.
"I'm pretty excited. I finally get to see my family again, spend time with my girlfriend, my dad and my grandma," said Cheek. "I just want to sit home and relax with my family."
After all the time away from their families, the Marines and sailors eagerly gathered their belonging and prepared to head to their new mission location: home.