CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — After more than half a year away in Afghanistan, Marines and sailors from Camp Lejeune's 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are back on U.S. soil and back in the arms of loved ones.
"It's better to be home than to be out there," said 1st Lt. Keith Richardson.
Richardson and his fellow Marines spent much of their deployment on the ground in Afghanistan. They hunted Taliban and guerilla fighters who tried to destabilize the country.
"A lot of patrolling, securing the local villages, trying to make sure the local populace knew we were there for them," Richardson said.
Many Marines say their work changed them forever.
"It's a very humbling experience -- a lot of poverty, a lot of sickness and illness. All you want to do is just help those people," said Cpl. Jemssy Alvarez.
The troops said the Taliban is getting weaker everyday. They said it is making a difference.
"There is a lot of work to be done over there, but we put our foot down and started on the right track," Cpl. Ronald Plessus said.
The Marines also played an important role in Afghanistan's political future, helping secure the sites where people could come to register to vote.
"That's just an incredible feeling. It's something that's unheard of in the Marine Corps to actually go in and be part of the establishment of a new government," Alvarez said.
Iraq gets most of the attention, but the troops said it is just part of the war on terrorism.
"You tell our guys in Iraq to keep doing what they're doing and our guys in Afghanistan to keep doing what they're doing. We will all get it done together," Plessus said.
Most of the Marines say if they were called, they would be ready to return to Afghanistan. During the time Camp Lejeune Marines guarded registration sites, more than 60,000 Afghans registered to vote. Afghanistan's election is scheduled for October.