Lately, I've been noticing a few hits on my keyword analysis pages referring to homecomings. Most of the time, it's "What are homecomings like in 29 Palms?"
I figured I would give you a little peek into homecoming. Now, keep in mind, each unit does something different, so this will only be from the perspective of The Husband's homecomings...
About a month or so before the unit is scheduled to return home, you'll be getting a phone call from your FRO (family readiness officer). If you're unsure about whether or not your FRO has your information, get in contact with them ASAP. They should have gotten it from your service member before they left, but sometimes things happen. Do a quick Google search of your unit and you will be able to find out the FRO's contact information there. Shoot them a quick email to double check. Keep in mind that they have a list of people that they are allowed to release information to, so if you're not on it, don't be mean, it's not their fault. Ask them nicely how to fix it. They will tell you how.
Anyway... that phone call will be giving you a window. That window can change at anytime and usually does. All the information you will be given will be a window of a few days of when you should expect your service member home. Nothing will be set in stone for a few more weeks, so HANG TIGHT! Also, DO NOT post the window on Facebook, Myspace, a message board, etc. Remember OPSEC. Doing something like that can and WILL delay homecoming.
If you're coming in from out of town, as soon as you get your window, book your hotel for that whole window. The last time The Husband came home, I booked it for a day before until two days after. I ended up having to move the dates back by one day, but it was much easier to do since I already had the room booked. You don't want to risk not having a hotel room. It's much easier to change reservations than to make one when there's no availability.
A couple of weeks before homecoming, you will be getting another phone call with a "solid" date and time. Remember, while this one is more set in stone, things can change, and they typically do. Being flexible is your only chance of surviving the last few hours of a deployment, truly.
If you can, go to the post-deployment briefings that will be held by the FRO. They will be able to give you more specific information about meeting locations.
In 29 Palms, you will generally meet on the soccer fields. Homecomings used to happen on Victory Field, but that has since been turned into a new MCX. I've heard that they can be held on the General's Lawn, but I've never seen that happen. However, since Victory Field is no more, that might be more likely. The Husband's old unit held their most recent homecoming on their vehicle ramp, the one before that was on the soccer field, the one before that was on Victory Field. It can and typically changes. Another reason to be sure to get in contact with your FRO!
Once you get to the meeting location, there's usually a lot of hurry up and wait. For The Husband's first homecoming, we waited at the field for close to 5 hours before the buses finally rolled up. For his second homecoming, I waited until the last possible minute to leave. It was the best idea I ever had because I was only waiting for maybe 45 minutes. The guys will have to stop at the armory after they get back to base to drop off their weapons, so this buys you some time. You will be given a time they will be landing and a time they will be on the field, so go by the field time. Expect it to be later than what you were told.
You will be given a hotline number that you can call that will have the most up to date information available. The FRO calls typically stop the day before, so your hotline is your lifeline. Keep it in your phone, and call it when you want to check for new information. If they are on time, early, or late, then that hotline will tell you.
When you get to the field, there will be things for you or your kids to do. The Husband's unit always had an LAV hanging around for the kids to play on. If it wasn't too late, there would be some jump houses and the local radio station would be there to play music. The cool thing is that one of the local stations (the one that usually shows up) gives updates about where the guys and the buses are. Once the buses reach a certain point, they keep you updated on their exact location and when they hit Adobe Road (the main road in town), they play The Boys Are Back in Town. That song still makes me cry. I love it.
Some units do a formation and formal ceremony before releasing the unit to their families. The Husband's unit did no such thing. The buses pulled up, the MCAGCC Marine Band played, the doors opened, and everyone was off.
I'll make a sign to hold and tell him what it says so he knows where to find me, I had a friend use balloons. I also stay in one place because it's so easy to literally walk right by one another in that chaos.
Once they are released to their families, Marines will pick up their seabags from the pile and they are free to go. Depending on what time they get in, they'll have to go to a formation either the next day or the day after before being released for a 96, so be ready for that. Also, post-deployment leave typically doesn't happen right away. It'll be a couple of weeks before that happens, but you'll also get the leave block dates from your FRO.
So there you go. If you have any questions, leave a comment or shoot me an email!