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A morning of tears and goodbyes as Camp Pendleton Marines ship out for Afghanistan

September 6, 2010 | 11:03 am

It’s 2 a.m. and several hundred Marines are assembling their sea bags, weapons and other gear on the parade deck. Small groups of families are huddled together; many a Marine and his wife are sharing a last embrace.

And 3-year-old Landon Molumby has figured out what’s happening: his father, Staff Sgt. Loren Molumby, a combat photographer, is going away.

The boy buries his head in his father’s shoulder. Tears of confusion and exhaustion stream down his face.

So it was early Monday as 250 Marines and sailors from Regimental Combat Team One gathered for the bus ride to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside and then the flight to Afghanistan. Some will be in Afghanistan for seven months, others for a year. Nearly all have deployed to Iraq.

The Marines have filled out their wills and their powers-of-attorney. Spouses have been briefed and given lists of phone numbers to call when the unexpected occurs: the broken refrigerator, the money problem, the in-law problem, the child-care problem, or just the loneliness and fear that comes from having a loved one in the most dangerous spot, Helmand province, of an already dangerous country.

The secret to bearing the burden of the stay-behind spouse?

“Stay strong, stay positive,” said Diana Molumby, 27, the staff sergeant’s wife. “Try to believe that they’re all going to come back OK.”

The talk from the White House is that the U.S. will begin to remove its troops from Afghanistan next July. But the commandant of the Marine Corps has said that Marines almost assuredly will not be in the first groups to return home.

In a recent whirlwind trip to southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, Gen. James Conway predicted that Marines would be there until 2014 or 2015. Of the 20,000 Marines and sailors now in Helmand province, about 10,000 are from Camp Pendleton, spread out in several large bases and dozens of tiny outposts.

Camille Fisher was on base to say goodbye to her brother, Staff Sgt. Angelo Robinson, 34.

“You just have to stay strong, never lose faith,” she said. “They’re already heroes, just pray that they stay safe.”

A significant number of the Marines are volunteers.

“I’ve been training to go to war for four years,” said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Schilling, 23. “It’s time I get over there, rather than sitting stateside.”

Schilling’s wife, Brandy, 24, and their sons, Richard, 5; and Gabriel, 2, will spend the deployment with her parents in Dayton, Ohio. He spent 2006 in Israel on a training mission, so Brandy has acquired coping skills.

"Stay busy,” she said.

Navy Cmdr. David Glassmire, a Catholic chaplain, said he is confident that the troops are ready. For the families, particularly the first-timers, that’s a different story, he said.

“The Marines are pumped up,” Glassmire said. “They know this is their time to make history. For some of the families, the meltdown begins tonight.”

Depending on where the Marines are assigned, they will be able to communicate with their families via e-mail and, in some cases, video phones. Still, there are limits to the preparation.

“I don’t think you’re ever really ready to send your husband to war,” said Diana Molumby.

-- Tony Perry at Camp Pendleton

Photo: Lance Cpl. Jonathan Schilling and wife Brandy bid farewell at Camp Pendleton as Marines deploy to Afghanistan. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times