Fox Company of the 4th Marines, newly returned from a 10-month deployment in Iraq, got a hearty homecoming parade Sunday.
Under clear skies, about 130 Marines marched along Freemans Bridge Road from Saranowski Drive to Holly Marina, near the bridge into Schenectady, led by the Schenectady Pipe Band playing “Leaving Port Askaig” and “Atholl Highlanders” on bagpipes and drums.
Fox Company is based at the joint reserve training center at the Schenectady County Airport on Route 50. It has deployed three times to Iraq since Sept. 11, 2001, said Sgt. Kristen Velardi. The reservists, ranging in age from 18 to 40, come from throughout the Capital Region and some from out of state.
The troops, dressed in desert-colored uniforms, often broke step during the parade as they sought out friends and family and smiled and turned their heads when they heard their names.
About 200 people lined Freemans Bridge Road, many waving small American flags or holding banners that said, “Welcome Home,” or “We love you.” Several yelled “thank you” or saluted as the Marines marched by.
Melissa Gregg, 28, of Rotterdam, was there to see her husband, Cory, 29, a sergeant returning from his first overseas deployment, along with his parents and grandparents. Both Melissa and Cory Gregg are teachers in the Rotterdam-Mohonasen Central School District.
“I am here to support him. I am very happy to see him. The last time I saw him was 10 months ago,” Melissa Gregg said.
Cory was deployed in May. He spent two months training at the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., in preparation for his deployment to Al Asad Airbase, the largest US military airbase in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. The unit was responsible for security at the air base.
While on a training break in July, he and Melissa married in Las Vegas. They have known each other for three years, having met while teaching in the same school.
Cory Gregg said he “looked forward to going over, because that was why I signed up.”
At the same time, he said, “I am very happy to be home. It was a long year, and it was well worth it.”
Gregg joined the Marines in April 2003 because of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in this country. “I felt obligated and I felt it was something I wanted to do,” he said.
Now that he is home, however, he plans to leave the Marines when his six-year enlistment ends in May. He and Melissa said they want to start a family.
Gregg said he supports President Barack Obama’s plan to withdraw American troops from Iraq. “It has to happen at some point, and it will be their fight from now on,” he said. “We are in a position where the Iraqis can assume more responsibility.”
Jim Friello, a former Marine who operates Holly Marina, and Pat Popolizio, who owns the marina property and the nearby Water’s Edge Lighthouse restaurant, helped the Marines organize the parade and lunch that followed.
Popolizio said he got involved because his son, Pat Jr., an Army reservist, returned from Iraq a year ago and, “I can relate. We are trying to support our troops and country, and we all need to pull closer together.”
In 2008, Popolizio completed a memorial commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He built the memorial outside his restaurant using two beams that were part of the World Trade Center. The memorial features a plaque dedicated to “fallen heroes and the men and women that served our country to protect our freedom.” Next to the beams is a bench with brass nameplates that memorializes every victim with connections to a local family.