sweaty Marine wearing woodland camo fatigues waves motorists through
the gate of Camp Lejeune for the Independence Day gala but
not before eyeing each vehicle and its occupants closely.
Families tow coolers and push strollers along the bases main
drag, Holcomb Boulevard, to WPT Hill Field. At 5:30, a Marine combo
kicks off the evening with a smorgasbord of pop tunes, from Gary Numans
80s classic Cars to I Can Only Imagine by the Christian
rock band Mercy. Concession stands crank out funnel cakes, fresh-squeezed
lemonade, Polish sausage, and hot dogs. There are children everywhere
-- infants, toddlers, teens. Its a sprawling affair last
year had upwards of 20,000 guests but its fairly low-key,
subdued, and profoundly family-oriented.
Theres an area roped off for relatives of men in the 22nd Marine
Expeditionary Unit, which is deployed to Afghanistan, and Marines
of the 24th MEU, which leaves for Baghdad on Tuesday. The 24th is
returning to Iraq ahead of schedule for what looks to be a seven-month
stretch. There arent too many 24th MEU families out tonight.
With less than 48 hours before the units departure, most are
presumably huddling at home, squeezing out every last bit of quality
time. 22nd MEU wives Robin and Kelly wrangle their collective brood
of energetic and good-natured kids. We talk briefly about deployments.
They're hardest on the kids, Robin says. We chat some more, but this
is really a night for the kids, for festivities and fireworks.