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Camp Pendleton battalion returns from deployment that included Afghanistan evacuation mission

Homecoming at Camp Pendleton on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

Almost 300 Marines and sailors returned to Camp Pendleton Sunday after a six-month deployment to the Middle East where many of the troops found themselves among an emergency response force sent to Kabul, Afghanistan, to assist in the massive August evacuation.

Ten service members assigned to the unit were among the 13 killed in a suicide bomb attack at the Kabul airport Aug. 26.

The unit, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, deployed as part of a rapid-reaction force in the Middle East. As the Taliban seized the Afghan capital of Kabul, the unit mobilized to secure the city’s airport alongside other Marine, Army and Air Force units.

During the ensuing 18-day airlift, almost 124,000 people were evacuated from the country. After an initial, chaotic surge of desperate Afghans flooded the airport’s tarmac, U.S. troops were able to secure the airport and began the painstaking process of screening people for evacuation.

On Aug. 26, at the airport’s Abbey Gate — where Afghans had been congregating en masse trying to escape — troops were conducting searches of evacuees when a lone ISIS-K suicide bomber approached. The bomber detonated his or her vest in the midst of the crowd. At least 170 Afghans were killed alongside 13 U.S. service members.

The 282 Marines and sailors who returned from deployment Sunday were not the first from the battalion to come home, said Maj. Roger Hollenbeck, a spokesperson for the 1st Marine Division.

Of the roughly 1,000 Marines and sailors that deployed, just over half have returned, including Golf ompany, whose Marines and sailors were killed in the explosion.

Marines and sailors marched onto the large asphalt parade deck at the Camp Horno area of Camp Pendleton around noon where hundreds of friends and family members waited under the sweltering October sun. Temperatures at the base topped out just above 90 degrees. Marines in civilian attire brought ice chests full of beer and handed them out to the just-returned Marines and sailors.

No Marines from the unit were made available for interviews although some did talk to reporters. Marine public affairs personnel would not allow reporters present to leave a cordoned-off area to talk to Marines and their families although some did.

Lance Cpl. Robert Kunz, 23, a mortarman from 2/1, said he was among those sent to Kabul but declined to go into detail about what he saw. He said he was proud of the work they did, however.

“It was just another day,” Kunz said. “We did what we could do.”

Selina Sweet, whose husband, Nathan, is a corporal in 2/1, waited for her husband with their two kids, 6-year-old Damian and 8-month-old Sabrina. She said it was a difficult deployment because so many of the unit’s troops were placed in harm’s way, although, she said, her husband was not among those sent to Kabul.

“It hit close to home, you know?” she said. “You just didn’t want to hear bad news. Luckily, we were able to hear from him.”

The rest of the Marines and sailors from 2/1 are expected to return over the coming days and weeks.


© 2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.