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After the hugs, reality sets in -- another Iraq tour looms

Several hundred family members, after months of worrying and praying, turn out at Miramar air station to greet returning Marines.

October 22, 2006|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — By their nature, military families tend to be respectful of authority.

But no rope line was going to restrain family members Saturday from sprinting onto the tarmac at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station to embrace loved ones returning from a seven-month deployment to Iraq.

Sgt. Garland Joyner, as the bearer of the squadron guidon, or pennant, had the honor of being the first Marine to deplane from the chartered United Airlines 747. His children -- Malik, 8, Imanie, 9, Kasey, 13, and Jasmine, 14 -- were the first to run for their welcome-home hug.

"Daddy!" screamed Malik as he raced toward his father, who has now done three tours in Iraq.

But amid the kisses and tears of relief there was the reality that Joyner and other members of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing will probably return to Iraq, maybe next year.

For families, another deployment means another prolonged period of constant worry in which every knock on the door carries the potential of the worst possible news.

Jamie Macdonald of Carmel knows all about the anxiety. She was waiting for her son, Sgt. Colin Macdonald, 25, who was returning after his fourth tour.

"It's horrible," she said. "You don't take a deep breath the whole time they're gone. It's like playing Russian roulette. You know that if you play often enough, something bad is going to happen."

Several hundred family members displaying small American flags, handmade banners and commemorative T-shirts awaited the arrival of the plane after its 11-hour flight from Germany.

Twenty-one members of Sgt. Tony Portillo's family turned out wearing red T-shirts with his name and picture. He was returning from his third deployment to Iraq.

"It gets harder each time," said his mother, Angie Portillo, of Los Angeles. "You just get numb, because you know what to expect. You're afraid the whole time."

Different family members have different strategies to cope with anxiety. Some won't watch television news.

Some put in extra hours at work. Others busy themselves with volunteer work or join groups of other family members of deployed Marines.

"You pray. Every night and every morning, you pray," said Hilda Lopez of Fresno, waiting with her daughter Rosa Kong for the return of her husband, Cpl. Phirak Kong, 21.

Cyndi DeBoer of Boulder City, Nev., followed a mantra she found in a book during the second tour of her stepson Cpl. Nathan DeBoer, 22.

"I read that you can either have faith or you can have fear," she said. "Every time I started to have fear, I prayed."

Cynthia Drake, who came to San Diego from her home in Fritch, Texas, for the homecoming, wore a T-shirt with a picture of her son, Cpl. Tanner Drake, 26, and the slogan, "A Piece of My Heart Served in Iraq."

tony.perry@latimes.com

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