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Marine Returns For Christmas
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After being on a combat tour in Afghanistan for more than six months, U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Vince Havelaar recently arrived home in Oakdale with his new wife Shelby (Hamilton) on Dec. 23, in time to celebrate Christmas with his family.

“We’re a spiritual family and we’re really grateful for all our friends and all their prayers, getting him home safe,” said his dad, Victor Havelaar. “We feel so fortunate to have our son come home for the holidays.”

Vince is a 2007 graduate of Oakdale High School. This was his second combat tour, which took him to the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. According to Wikipedia, the Helmand Province has been a Taliban stronghold and much of the fighting between NATO and Taliban forces is taking place in this province, which is also the world’s largest opium-producing region.

Just prior to his return, Vince said he looked forward to seeing his parents who were very supportive of him while he was gone — his mom, Margie Havelaar, lives in Copperopolis. He was also looking forward to seeing friends in Oakdale who he hadn’t seen in more than a year.

“I’m extremely happy to come home on Christmas and it does have a special significance to me,” he said. “I have never once missed a Christmas in my last three years in the Marine Corps. Somehow I’ve gotten lucky each time and yet again I’m fortunate to come home for the holidays.”

“This tour was especially hard on family and friends, knowing the extreme and awful danger and conditions these guys are exposed to daily in Afghanistan,” Victor Havelaar added.

Vince is proud to be one of 19 Marines in 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines Scout Sniper Platoon based out of Kaneohe Bay. He explained that in the scout sniper platoon there are much fewer Marines than in other rifle platoons or companies.

“This gives us a chance to bond more and get to know each other a lot faster, not to mention we all need to know each other very well considering we have to put all of our trust in our spotter or shooter to make the right call when working together on a mission,” he said. “That friendship and trust is what got me through a lot of rough moments, having others who are there for you when you need them. We all took care of each other over there, no matter what the issue, trying our best to keep each other’s morale up and make sure we all came home safe and in one piece.”

He said that one of his platoon’s snipers was wounded but fully recovered and most importantly, they all returned safely.

“As hard as this deployment was — it was brutally hard on family and friends, not to mention what he went through,” dad Victor said. “We’re all happy to see him, but none more than his wife.”

Vince was welcomed home by Shelby at his base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii on Dec. 7. She is a 2010 graduate of OHS and also served as the first chairperson of the Oakdale Youth Commission.

“Vince and I were married on April 3, 2010 and he deployed to Afghanistan in the middle of May,” she shared. “I still lived in California, and he was in Hawaii, preparing to leave. I moved to Hawaii by myself in June. It was hard trying to adjust to a whole new place with no family, friends, or Vince. I got myself a puppy to help keep me company until Vince came home.”

Vince acknowledged that being away from his wife, family, and friends was very difficult for him as well.

“I thought it would be easier, having been on a deployment before, but it was the same, if not harder, this time,” he said. “During my deployment to Iraq in 2009 it was a much more built-up place. It’s safe to say the bases there might as well have been the Hilton compared to the tiny, run-down patrol bases I operated out of in Afghanistan.”

He added that with those living conditions there were fewer chances to contact his wife and family via phone and even more difficult to make contact through the Internet.

“Letters are a big deal over there — the letters from my wife and family and friends, as well as care packages full of food that actually tasted good,” he said. “…My family and friends were all very supportive. Also, the brotherhood of my fellow Marines helped me deal with everything I had to face over there. Now that I am back from my tour, I look forward to spending time with my wife most of all, trying to catch up for the last seven months we were apart.”

“I am fortunate enough to have never missed a Christmas with him …” Shelby added. “My heart goes out to the people whose loved ones don’t get to be home for the holidays. I am a very proud Marine Corps wife.”

Vince also credits her with allowing him to concentrate on his duties while he was away.

“My wife had to deal with moving and a whole lot of other issues back home as well, but (she) took care of all of it and did all she could to keep me from stressing out about anything back home, which helped me focus on the deployment and not worry too much about other things,” he said.

Shelby added that the military presents them with challenges but she wouldn’t change their lifestyle just because it can be hard at times.

“Even though we have never lived together, and have hardly spent more than two weeks together at a time, we have adjusted to living together very well,” she added. “Vince has reenlisted for another four years, so right now our plans are just to finish up our time here in Hawaii and move to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.”