Even with the temperature at 49 degrees and falling fast, the bundled up, nearly 2-month-old Madison Haskell continued sleeping in her father's arms, and Marine Sgt. Trevor Haskell couldn't have been happier.
Under cloudy, crisp and chilly skies over this sprawling base late Tuesday night, more than four hours after Madison arrived with her mother, Chelsea, she finally got to be with dad.
Trevor Haskell, 24, was one of about 120 Marines and sailors with the 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, who came home from Afghanistan, just in time for the holidays.
And he instantly knew this would be the best Thanksgiving ever. This was the first meeting between him and Madison, who was born while he was deployed for seven months, his second tour of duty.
"Feels great to be dad," Haskell said. "Amazing to be home."
His wife, Chelsea, whom he kissed as soon as he saw her upon arrival, said beforehand that her husband told her not to be surprised if he cries at the reunion. She knew she would.
"I am excited, nervous, I feel like a chicken with its head cut off," said Chelsea Haskell, 25, a graduate of Marina High School in Huntington Beach, who now lives in Vista. "I am regretting putting on mascara and eyeliner."
Trevor Haskell had seen two-minute videos of his little girl. When she was born at the naval hospital on base, he was on speakerphone and got to hear her first cries as she was welcomed into the world.
His parents, who drove in from Sacramento, and his brother, also a Marine sergeant, were among family and friends who continued to stream into a gymnasium aboard Camp Pendleton to wait for their troop. It was a long wait, too.
The Marines were in transit and upon arrival had to check in weapons first and it wasn't until shortly after 10 p.m. that they finally embraced loved ones.
RiaRose Bonafede, 9, and her sister Selena Gilley, 5, of Fallbrook were busy coloring posters that read "Welcome home Uncle John" at a crafts table set up for children inside the gymnasium.
They were waiting, along with their mother, Angela Bonafede, and their aunt Caroline Lara, who is Cpl. John Nolen's girlfriend.
Lara and Nolen have been dating for a year.
Having him home for the holidays is good but just having him back home alone is fantastic, Lara said.
"Just the fact that they're back and that God kept them safe the whole time there," said Lara, 23, of Mundelein, Ill.
Each time she heard Nolen, 23, and fellow Marines were out on a convoy, Lara worried. "We prayed for him every night," she said.
The 1/11 lost four Marines and saw about 30 wounded during the unit's deployment, said Maj. David Everly, who arrived home a couple of weeks ago.
The artillery battalion was attached to 1st Marine Division (Fwd.), 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Fwd.). The Marines of 1/11 provided security for Forward Operating Base Fiddler's Green, conducted logistical convoys and counterinsurgency operations in support of International Security Assistance Forces throughout southern Afghanistan, according to a news release.
This month alone, at least six Pendleton-based Marines have been killed in action in that country, in addition to at least three killed last month.
"This is a mature environment and not one that is going to be won over easily," said Everly. "The Marine Corps is taking the fight to the enemy. We continue to be aggressive."
But Tuesday night was about celebrating and family reunions, just in time for the holidays. All of the approximately 500 Marines and sailors from the 1/11 are expected home before Christmas, Everly said.
"For the Marines, it could be the best gift they could get and for their families," he said. "There's an extreme amount for this unit to be thankful for."
As night went on, Madison continued her slumber with dad beaming at his little angel.