There's a handful of unflattering nicknames and references that come to mind when you think of Twentynine Palms, CA. The Mojave Desert can be defined by its heat. Sand. Barren land. Dust. Sun. And more heat. But for Marines who return to the base there after a combat tour in Afghanistan, there's only one word that matters once those white buses merge onto Highway 62-- "home".
When you spend more than 200 days and nights fighting the enemy and longing for your family, even "29 Stumps" is a welcoming sight. It's not a place on the top of everyone's Vacation Bucket List, but its quite the consolation prize compared to somewhere like Helmand Province.
I waited with Ashley and her son in the heat, but luckily out of the sun for the most part. I watched the pair exchange little kisses in between Ashley's anxious examinations of the road leading to the parade field. I remember thinking she looked like a celebrity in her mini skirt, high heels and dark sunglasses. Ashley looked gorgeous. The heat was having the opposite effect on me; thank goodness I'm always on the other side of the camera.
The buses seemed to come out of nowhere. Without warning, they pulled into the dirt parking lot and unceremoniously the Marines finally spilled out onto the Southern California ground. They made a quick job of getting into formation and marched onto the field where Ashley and the other families spotted their loved ones. Just a moment later the camouflage scattered and I watched Cpl. Bonilla reunite with his wife and son. His smile stretched from one side of his face to the other and I was instantly reminded why I'm one of the few people who actually love Twentynine Palms.
Thank you, Bonilla family. I was thrilled to be a part of your homecoming and I am happy to share your story here with some of my favorite shots from your day in the sun :)