Marines Come Home To Loving Families And Hurricane Devastation

A homecoming on Monday for dozens of marines with the 4th Amphibious Assault Battalion was a mixture of relief and uncertainty. The Third platoon, Company A returned to the Gulfport Seabee base after a seven months Iraq. Now they must deal with what Katrina did to their community.

The "Welcome Home" celebration for 70 Gulfport Marines returning from Iraq ended months of worry for families. Janice Hardage's son Michael is a Navy corpsman. His absence has been more difficult since the hurricane hit.

"We lost our downstairs and both my daughters lost their houses," said Hardage. "It's been kind of hard for us to try to get everything done and try to keep up a good face for Michael."

For a moment all Katrina's devastation was forgotten. All that was on anyone's mind was how good it felt to have troops back home even though most of the Marines had little idea what kind of home they'd find.

Chris Nothstine knew he had "a little bit of roof damage and we're going pull up the carpet."

His mother chimed in and "take some ceilings down and some walls."

A surprised Nothstine said, "I didn't know about that."

Right after Katrina, some Marines had a hard time getting in touch with relatives.

"He was just concerned about what happened because he'd seen a lot on the news from Gulfport to Hattiesburg and up through Laurel and all of them were curious to find out how the families were."

Michael Hardage says it wasn't easy keeping his mind on his duty in Iraq while his family struggled to put their lives back together.

"We had to continue on with the mission," said Michael Hardage. "We knew we would be able to deal with this when we got home."

Now these marines say they are looking forward to their next mission.helping their families and their communities rebuild.

The military allowed some Marines whose homes were severely damaged to return early. Hurricane Katrina wasn't the only challenge Third Platoon, Company A faced while in Iraq. Officials say two Gulfport Marines were killed and at least three seriously wounded.