IRAQ: When new commander in chief mentions sacrifice, military families know what he means.
President Barack Obama, in his inaugural address in Washington, talked of the need for sacrifice from all Americans.
For the early morning crowd at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, sacrifice has been a way of life for several years. Even as Obama spoke, hundreds of family members were waiting for 250 Marines and sailors to return from Iraq, many from their second, third or fourth deployment.
Take the family of Navy corpsman Edward Dikitanan, who was finishing his fourth deployment. His wife, mother-in-law, and four children, ages 1 to 11, were holding a large banner and waving small American flags.
"The older the children get, the harder it gets," said Dikitanan's wife, Lanie.
When the first embraces were over, 8-year-old Nalani had a request; "Daddy, can we go to the zoo now?"
It's like that for military families: their lives are often on hold while loved ones are away for six months to a year.
Randy and Tracy Vanderwende of Rancho Cucamonga have kept their Christmas tree up and the presents unopened as they waited for their daughter Cpl. Kylie Vanderwende, 22, to return from her second deployment.
"We're going to take her home, let her sleep for a couple of days, and then we'll have our Christmas," said Tracy Vanderwende.
Karie Bergmann, 22, and her husband, Sgt. Jason Bergmann, 28, have been married for 16 months. He's been gone for 12 of those months.
As the Marines got off their charter flight, Karie Bergmann held a sign so her husband could not miss her. "You Survived 4 Deployments. I Survived My 1st Deployment," it read.
Cpl. Andrew Anderson, 20, got to hold his eight-week-old daughter Kezia for the first time.
Tuesday's returning group was from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. More air squadrons and infantry battalions are due home soon, even as other groups leave to replace them.
"We're just going to take it one hour at a time,' said Crystal Hall, 19, as she hugged her husband, Cpl. Aaron Hall, 20.
Before they left Iraq, the Marines were given what is called a warrior transition briefing about how to adjust to a world without roadside bombs and snipers. "They need to remember what it's like not to be constantly on guard," said Lt. Col. Joe Borja.
At 30, 60 and 90 days the Marines will be checked to see whether they've made another kind of sacrifice: post traumatic stress disorder.
— Tony Perry, San Diego
Photo: Karie Bergmann awaits her husband, Sgt. Jason Bergmann. Credit: Tony Perry/Los Angeles Times