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Returning Seabees Have Some Catching Up to Do

September 19, 2003|Suzie St. John | Special to The Times

Cradling 4-month-old Micah in one arm, Brenda St. Hilaire anxiously peered through her camera lens, hoping to snap a photo of the husband she hadn't seen in seven months.

But weaving through the crowd, Joseph St. Hilaire sneaked up behind his wife, surprising her with a whisper in her ear and a kiss on her neck.

Then the returning Seabee looked down in awe at the son, born while he was serving his country in the Middle East.

After spending nearly seven months in Kuwait, Turkey, Iraq and Guam, the 22-year-old Ventura resident was among 225 members of the 4th Naval Mobile Construction Battalion who touched down early Thursday at the Navy's airfield at Point Mugu.

The Seabees who returned on the 13-hour flight from Guam completed the homecoming of the 600-member battalion to Naval Base Ventura County. The first wave of the battalion returned late last week.

"It hasn't really sunk in that I'm home yet," Joseph said. "It's kind of overwhelming -- but I'm just looking forward to taking some leave and spending time with my wife and getting to know my son."

Brenda, 22, echoed her husband's sentiments. "It's been a challenge with him gone for so long," she said. "I just want us to spend time together as a family."

The roles were reversed for the Dahlenburgs, with Emilie Dahlenburg returning home to her husband, Chad, and their 2-year-old son, Junior.

The Iraqi mission marked 38-year-old Emilie's second tour of duty overseas as a Seabee. She had previously been deployed to Kosovo.

"This time it was much harder, because when I was deployed the last time I didn't have my son," said Dahlenburg as she did a group hug with her family. "It's just so good to see my son and my husband."

The reunion is a little bittersweet for the couple, who will have two months together before Chad, 28, is deployed to Okinawa in November. He is a member of the 5th Naval Mobile Construction Battalion.

"It's going to be so hard to be apart again, but I will be on shore duty by November, so hopefully this won't happen again," Emilie said.

The battalion's commanding officer, Jim Worcester of Oceanside, said the returning Seabees will have liberty for the next 96 hours. In addition, many of them will be granted longer leaves over the next 30 days.

Heather Rouse's husband, Joe Tank, will be among those taking some time off.

The pair were married last December, only two months before he was deployed.

"During the first few months, when all of the news about the war was all over TV, it was kind of hard to take," said Rouse, 21. "Now I'm anxious for us to make a home together."

The Ventura County group was the first Seabee battalion to reach Baghdad and the only West Coast Seabee battalion to play an active role in the war.

The Seabees' duties included building bridges and roads for the advancing troops.

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