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Sgt. Rodolfo Toro, III Marine Expeditionary Force Public Affairs
OKINAWA, Japan - 04.10.2009
The sounds of war faded a few hours into the flight. Battlefield commands gave way to talk of liberty plans as the stress of war subsided. Approximately 26 hours stood between where he was and where he wanted to be - thousands of miles away from the war-stricken land he spent seven months rebuilding. It was his duty. But he was returning to Okinawa; and for him it was almost over.
It was Cpl. Thomas Kuncheria's first time in a combat zone, and after seven months in Iraq he was ready to come home. But for him, home was a small island in the Pacific just as far from his family in New York as Camp Al Taqaddum.
Overhearing the chatter of married Marines excited about returning made Kuncheria think about the nominal things that awaited him on Okinawa.
It was the trees, green grass and having a toilet footsteps from his bed that distinguished the combat zone he was leaving, from his home away from home on Okinawa.
More than two years passed since he executed the permanent change of station orders that sent him across the world and a continent away from his family.
He missed them. But even now, had to wait a little longer to see them.
While in Iraq, Kuncheria said he spent a lot of time thinking about them during the long, late-night convoys where he served as a .50 caliber machine gunner for security platoon, Support Company, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group. He missed the home-cooked meals prepared by his mother and tight-knit bond he shares with his older brother and sister.
These were the memories in his head; snapshots of those he missed and cherished. A sacrifice experienced by most veterans of war.
Then more than ever, he valued the time he and his family shared together. He looked forward to seeing them again, but he knew they would not be on Okinawa when he returned.
They lived in the culturally diverse borough of Queens, New York, where he spent most of his adolescent years.
Although he would have preferred to return there to them and share stories of his experiences in Iraq, letters and phone calls would have to suffice.
"When you sign the dotted line you are sacrificing your time and your relationships back home for a cause," Kuncheria said.
And so Kuncheria's perspective and expectations about returning to Okinawa, his home away from home, were a little different than those of his married comrades.
There would be no hugs and kisses or tears of joy for him and other single Marines, only the camaraderie shared between them; a silent reminder of marriage to the Corps. But that was alright with him, he said. Separation from family was something he was ok with.
Besides, Kuncheria realized he developed a surrogate family in the Corps. His fellow Marines had become a band of brothers through shared hardships.
"We live with each other, we wake up with each other, we work with each other - we don't have anyone else here," Kuncheria said. "This is not something everybody can do, or is willing to do. There are a lot of sacrifices."
Even though there was no one among the masses of people gathered in front of Barracks Building 2441 on Camp Hansen, March 26 applauding and cheering specifically for him, Kuncheria took-in the moment as his own. Not because of what he did, but because 9th ESB as a whole deserved it, he said.
"The battalion's work in Iraq helped better the lives of the Marines and Iraqi's over there," Kuncheria said.
That was enough for him. Completing his mission of supporting Marines in theater satisfied his desire to contribute to the Corps.
After all, it was the brotherhood of the Corps that appealed to him, he said. Not only did he enlist for the prestige associated with Marines, but for the deep bond forged between them.
"My fellow Marines are not biologically related," Kuncheria said. "But through our experiences we are family."
In the end, Kuncheria realized though, he was not returning to family members on Okinawa, he was returning with them.