Camp Pendleton Marines return home from Afghanistan

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CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Nearly 100 Marines reunited with their families at Camp Pendleton Thursday.

Just before noon, dozens of families gathered on the base and waited anxiously for their loved ones to arrive.

About 95 Marines of MEB-A, or Marine Expeditionary Brigade, have been deployed for at least 7 months in Afghanistan. Some units have been gone even longer.

"We weren't sure exactly when he was going to get here," said Jacqueline Culliver, who was waiting for her husband, Sgt. Joseph Culliver.

The past 11 months haven't been easy for Jacqueline, her 3-year-old daughter, Jenna and 4-month-old son, Jackson--who barely even knows his dad.

"He was here for about a week, maybe, when he was born, then he had to leave," Jacqueline said.

MEB-A has been working control and security in the Helmond province, one of the most dangerous districts in the country.

"We secured the area and we transitioned," Gen. Daniel Yoo said. "That was our goal. What the Afghans do with it is up to them."

Yoo said his units have officially turned over operations to the 215th Corps, a unit of Afghanistan's National Army.

Since January, the unit has already planned and conducted more than 300 independent operations.

"The Afghans are taking majority of the casualties, because they're doing the fighting," Yoo said.

Now that Afghanistan forces have taken over, U.S. Marines get to come home. The homecoming Thursday marks the end of U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan.

"Switched off the light, last person out," Culliver said as he hugged his wife and kids.

Now Culliver can concentrate on the important task of getting to know his son.

"It's pretty much just meeting a new person," Culliver said.

"It's surreal to be home…still kind of going through the mental gymnastics of leaving Afghanistan," Col. Bruce Barnhill said.

But Barnhill's family has a different workout in mind for the colonel.

"Since he's been gone we've been running a mile every day," said his daughter, Rachel.

"We call it ‘a mile a day while he's away,’" said his wife, Patty. "Sometimes we even run at 11:00 at night."

The plan was to stop running after Bruce came home, but Patty and her children came up with a new idea.

"I think we're going to make him run with us," Patty said. "So, even if he's exhausted, he's probably going to have to run a mile with us tonight.

A total of 1,500 Marines of MEB-A were in Afghanistan. The unit will be returning home throughout this month.