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Return of the Gunfighters: Marine Helicopter Squadron back from Afghanistan

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Members of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 and their families enjoyed a welcome home from Afghanistan beach party celebration, supported by numerous organizations and donors on June 27, according to Judy Atwell-Pantazo an officer of Woman's Club of Vista.

Back from Camp Bastion Afghanistan after a May 23 transfer to another squadron, HMLA-369 -- also called the Gunfighters -- completed their missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

An 'honor to serve'

Captain Melanie M. Salinas, a Public Affairs officer for the Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar, relayed the appreciation felt by the Marines for all those groups and individuals who donated and volunteered support for the welcome home event. The Marines "are grateful" Salinas stated for the "continued efforts and support of the squadron."

"It is an honor to serve them," Captain Salinas added.

Calling the event a success, and grateful to everyone who made it happen, Atwell-Pantazo stated that "Five hundred happy Marines and their families stayed until the very end of the event not wanting to leave." She also quoted a Lt. Colonel as telling her that "... he had never seen an event like this one before nor had the troops ever stayed before until the end."

Organizations pulled together to ensure each Marine received "two free tickets, a T-shirt with a Beach Bash logo and a bag of miscellaneous coupons from local vendors when they arrived at the check in table," said Atwell-Pantazo. "If they had kids, each child received their own special bag of goodies. If they were a family the received additional items and if they were single the received something else special. They also got two free tickets to place in their choice of 85 gift baskets for a drawing later in the day. They then proceeded to enjoy the sun and other things available to them like surf lessons, volleyball, horseshoes, free massages, free photo booth for family pictures."

Vista Lions' club princesses

Included for the little ones, said Atwell-Pantazo, there was face painting, hair chalking and tattooing. But the older ones did not miss out apparently, as she added:

"Even the older kids enjoyed this because it was done by the Vista Lions' club Princesses."

Atwell-Pantazo thanked the Vista American Legion Hall, Veterans Association of North County, the Woman's Club of Vista, Contemporary Women of North County, Patriot Support and the Dogs on Deployment which takes care of pets while the soldiers are deployed.

No one went hungry said Atwell-Pantazo:

"If they were hungry, there was more than enough food, provided by the Vista American Legion Hall. Hamburger, hot dog, potato chips, soda, monster drinks, etc. For dessert, there were homemade cupcakes, cookies and bananas provided by Farm Fresh to You. There were popcorn and snow cones provided by the Woman's Club of Vista and the Contemporary Women of North County. No one went away hungry."

Charger Girls

And the gifts donated were a huge success, even a bigger draw for soldiers than the Charger Girls. "When we finally got to the drawing of the gift baskets, the Charger Girls had arrived, but no one even paid much attention to them," said Atwell-Pantazo. "They were more interested in getting their basket!"

Since "only 85 of the 500 won, " she added, "we had everyone who didn't win come up to the front and we gave out and additional 50 gift cards randomly to 50 happy Marines."

She wishes they could have made everyone a winner, she added. "But I think they all thought they were when the day was over."

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