Two Marines were welcomed home rock star style by dozens of Mount Laurel and area residents.
Many braved the cold on a recent night to take part in the homecoming, which was organized by the Yellow Ribbon Club.
Those being welcomed home were Corporal Andrew Einstein and Sgt. Devon Richio, who were stationed together in Afghanistan.
Einstein, 23, has been a Marine for five years.
“To see all the support is truly amazing,” he said.
“We went through some tough times over there,” the 2006 graduate from Lenape High School said, noting that knowing there was so much support from home helped.
Strangers thanking him for his service really hit home as well.
“It really means a lot,” Einstein said.
He could not reach family for as much as four months at a time and at times had no running water.
Also, Einstein said he must constantly remind himself that he holds himself to higher standards. He demonstrated that in part by aiding a wounded enemy.
“You’re not given anything in the Marine Corps,” he said. “The fact that I know that I will be a Marine until the day I die, I earned that right, I earned the eagle and anchor.”
Devon Richio, 23, has been in the Marines for six years.
He did not expect the homecoming event.
“It’s a little overwhelming, but we’re just happy to be back,” Richio, of Upper Darby, Pa., said.
He said neither he nor Einstein will be deployed again — for now.
Richio and Einstein were stationed at Sangin in Helmand province in Afghanistan.
“There were moments of sheer terror,” Richio said. “It was something I’ll never forget.
“It’s nice to come home and have people appreciate that you’ve been gone for so long.”
He joked that the food was the most challenging part of being a Marine.
Richio also said being away from family was tough.
“But when you’re away from your family you’re with your brothers out there,” he said.
Richio said a sense of accomplishment is the most rewarding thing.
“We helped turn Sangin around,” he said, noting it is now a safer place.
Richio said he would “absolutely” recommend the Marines for anyone interested.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” he said. “It opens up a million doors for young people.”
And what has he learned from his time overseas?
“Don’t take anything for granted,” Richio said.
Jim Ewen, of Medford, has been a member of the Yellow Ribbon Club for two years.
“This is wonderful,” Ewen said. “To have the opportunity of welcoming home a young man or woman is something I’m very proud of.”
In the Marines in the 1970s, Ewen’s son-in-law was deployed two years ago.
“It’s a great honor and it’s something that has been poo pooed upon years ago as far as supporting the military and I’m glad for the founders of the Yellow Ribbon Club to do something like this,” he said, noting there is more support for troops these days. “It’s something that should have been done all through the years.”
Dave Silver, volunteer with Yellow Ribbon Club for the last two-and-a-half years, has facilitated as many as 40 homecomings and has attended about 100.
“They’re both heroes in my mind,” Silver said. “It’s just an honor to get to treat these guys like the rock stars that they are and give them the proper welcoming home that they deserve.”
Einstein is a police officer in Medford and Riverside and Richio is a Philadelphia firefighter.
“They’re just superstars to me,” Silver said, noting many thanks were due to Warriors Watch Riders and Mount Laurel and Medford police and fire departments.
“America is the land of the free and the home of the brave for a million reasons,” he said. “These guys are two reasons.”
Steven Weber of Mount Laurel is in junior ROTC at Lenape High School.
“I think that it’s good that we honor the troops who go out and fight every day for our country,” Weber, a sophomore, said. “It’s also good to know that other people who may not even know them are out here to honor them and give thanks for what they do every day.
“If I were overseas and I came home what I would want is for people to recognize that I did something for them.”
To find out more about the Yellow Ribbon Club, visit: www.yellowribbonclub.org.