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Staff Sgt. Jason Wede, a resident of Maryland, embraced his son, Fritz, 5, early Friday morning, moments after arriving by bus to the Londonderry Reserve Center. All 200 members of the Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment returned safely from a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan. (APRIL GUILMET)

Bravo Co. makes early-morning return to Londonderry

LONDONDERRY -- Two-hundred local Marines were welcomed home early Friday morning, when their eager loved ones waited inside the Londonderry Reserve Center for several hours to witness the return of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment.

Shortly after 1:30 a.m., the five buses carrying the members of Bravo Company, escorted by members of the Patriot Guard Riders and other veterans' motorcycle groups, pulled into the parking lot, welcomed by hundreds of their friends and relatives carrying signs and waving American flags.

Members of the Pease Greeters had also planned on participating in the festivities, but made the last-minute decision not to attend in order to reserve the site's limited space for the Marines' awaiting loved ones.

The Marines unit had been scheduled to arrive at 10:30 p.m. Thursday evening, but weather conditions made for slower traveling, officials said.

Based out of the 64 Harvey Road Reserve Center, the unit, which consists mainly of soldiers from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine, had deployed for Afghanistan last May. All of them returned safely to Londonderry today.

For many members of Bravo Company, this wasn't their first deployment. The Marines unit had been activated several times since 9/11: in January 2003, the battalion was activated in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and it was again activated in March 2006 for a seven month stint in Iraq. Members had returned from another seven-month tour in April 2009.

As a special surprise for the Bravo Company, volunteers arranged for a the unit's beloved former gunnery sergeant, Sgt. Vincent Russo, to be among the welcoming crowd.

Russo, who is now stationed as a recruiter in his home state of Iowa, left the Londonderry-based unit in 2010, though has remained in contact with many members since then. The Veterans Count organization helped fund Russo's trip to the Granite State, flying him in to Manchester-Boston Regional Airport just in time to welcome his "boys" home.

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