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My Homecoming Experience
What you can expect: My Son's Homecoming from Iraq to 29 Palms
a/k/a Semper Gumby (Always Flexible)

My son is part of 3/4 and returned to 29 Palms at the end of May for his 2003 deployment to Iraq, and in July for his 2004 deployment to Iraq. I wish I could be there with all of you for all of your Marines.

ACCURATE INFORMATION:
Click here for tips on getting accurate information for homecomings.

DATES SUBJECT TO CHANGE
Even after they announce the dates, they will be subject to change, even up to the last 24-hour period prior to their expected arrival; likely not by much, but enough that you may need to add an extra day to your hotel stay. Tuck a little reminder into your heart that being flexible will help everyone accept any changes that may come about. Remember when your Marine's unit left, the dates changed unexpectedly, and that may very well happen upon their return as well.

FLIGHT WINDOWS AND HOMECOMING DATES
It has been my experience, tracking the returns from 29 Palms Marines since May of this year, that the larger units are coming in just about the same way. Here's what has happened in the past:

  • They told us they would know a flight window in 3-4 days, and indeed it was 4 days.
  • The flight window they announced was 6-8 days from the date they made the announcement.
  • Confirmed flight DATES came in 5-6 days before arrival.
  • Actual flight arrivals changed only slightly, generally by about a day or day and a half; most generally they were later arrival times.
  • With the larger units like 1/7, entire units cannot return together of course, but they all seemed to arrive in about a 48 hour window on 3-4 flights; generally 2 each day.

Sometimes it helps to understand recent history; perhaps this will help with your planning. But don't put ANYTHING in stone until you hear it on the hotline.

TRAVEL TO 29 PALMS
I flew on Southwest because there is no penalty to change tickets, and I, like you, did not know for sure when Derrick would fly in. I didn't like the drive from Los Angeles to 29 Palms very much, but it was certainly doable and the flights are less expensive into LA. If I were to do it again, I would have spent a little more money and flown Southwest into the Ontario airport.

ACCOMODATIONS AT 29 PALMS
Again, there is tons of information on the travel page. They have a variety of hotels with a variety of price ranges. Always ask for a military discount and tell them your Marine is returning from Iraq. The condos we stayed in were right on the main street that takes you to the base (Adobe Road). It's very easy to get around at 29 Palms, as there is not much there except the base. There are two main roads, 29 Palms Highway and Adobe Road. They "T" together where Denny's and McDonalds are located. On one end of Adobe Road is the base, and on the other end is Denny's and McDonalds.

Again, we stayed at the Sunnyvale Garden Suites and it was outstanding. They offer 1 and 2 bedroom condos with fully equipped kitchens, barbecue grills, and plenty of outdoor space to gather with friends and family. Our unit was particularly large, but there is also a 'gathering area' that has outdoor tables, indoor pool table, and just a great place to spend time together and share stories.

MarineParents.com Name Tags/Badges
The Marine Moms, Dads, Wives, Family and Friends that I met on the web site and I printed name tags to wear so we could find each other, and I put one on my 'Welcome Home Derrick' poster that I carried around with an 11x13 picture of Derrick's MCRD-SD in dress blues. You'll find a link to the nametags on the 29 Palms Travel page referenced above.

POSTERS WITH YOUR MARINE'S PHOTO
I couldn't bring posters with me, so we made them there. There is a little office supply store as you're driving up Adobe Road towards the base (it's on the right, past the McDonalds, a ways before the drive-up Mexican Restaurant on the left if my memory serves me correctly). They enlarged my wallet-size photo to an 11x13 for just a couple dollars. They had all the poster making tools we needed and we didn't have to spend a fortune. There is a very l-o-n-g fence just outside the gate that everyone posted welcome home posters, flags, banners, ribbons, and everything imaginable to welcome the troops home. And the Marines loved it! Duct tape would have been very useful, but we also used these little plastic-fastener things that Jeremy's dad and Drew's dad thought of.

ARRIVING ON THE BASE
Take 29 Palms Highway to Adobe Road. Follow Adobe Road to the base. You will need to have your Marine's full name and something that identifies you as a family member to get on the base. I don't know what that 'identifier' would be, and they didn't know when I called them either. As you get close to the base, there is an office area off to the right before the guard gate. You will need to go in there and show your id, driver's registration and proof of insurance. On subsequent visits, you will check in at the main gate. When we arrived just at the gate just prior to the homecoming, they were doing routine searches of all vehicles; not a big deal, but give yourself a few extra minutes.

PROOF OF INSURANCE
You must have proof of insurance to get on the base. If you arrive without proof of insurance, call your insurance company and have them fax it to the following number: 1-760-830-6795. (phone number accurate as of May 23, 2003)

THE HOMECOMING REUNION
The reunions are generally held in the East Gym on the base at 29 Palms. To get to the east gym, go in through the main gate and continue to the first light. Turn left at the first light. Go down that road a ways and turn right on 4th Street. The gym in just a little ways down that road.

The MCCS provided light refreshments and cold beverages as well as reading material in the gym. It could be a long wait for children, so bring things to entertain them. I'd suggest toting a cooler with beverages and snacks just in case MCCS is not able to provide refreshments. We got there way to early for homecoming, but I loved meeting all the other parents, wives, and families and taking photos and sharing my overabundance of excitement and adrenalin.

I don't want to say much about the actual homecoming; brass bands and patriotism and tears and hugs. I'm simply not a talented enough writer to do justice to such a phenomenon. For now, suffice it to say the emotion of that evening has touched me forever and will always remain in me.

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
I arrived at 29 Palms in early evening the day before the actual homecoming. We had many families join us at the condos we stayed at, from around the United States that we had met on the web site, and it was just phenomenal to meet and hug each other and share tears and anticipation just prior to their homecoming.

Once our Marines returned though, we let them call the shots, and it was tough to get back in touch with each other, so I truly enjoyed that time beforehand to share some of our "Marine Mom" experiences. It's a time in my life I will never forget.

My time with my son was the best part of my life with him up to this point in time. We talked and laughed and hugged and cried. He actually slept on a rollaway bed in my bedroom, (if you can call it sleep). We stayed up all night most nights, just talking and listening to music. We got very little sleep, which didn't bother him at all; it's what he was used to. And I was fine...my feet never touched the ground.

I hope you can make it for your Marine's homecoming. I know it will be a time that you will treasure always. God bless our Marines, God bless each of you, and I wish I could be there with you.

   
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