Milo Imrie didn't seem too different from other 22-year-olds as he sat in his parents' tidy living room in Richmond's Brickyard Cove neighborhood Thursday, using a laptop to show photos and videos of his time overseas.
The images weren't from vacation travels, but from Imrie's five months on active duty as a lance corporal with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment "Dark Horse" unit of the U.S. Marine Corps.
The unit suffered record casualties, with 25 Marines killed and more than 200 wounded over a seven-month period that started last fall, battling insurgents in the Sangin district in Afghanistan's Helmand province.
The unit is now stateside and on May 5 Imrie's parents pulled out all the stops for a welcome-home reception that included a motorcycle escort by the NorCal Patriot Guard Riders from Oakland International Airport to the family home on Flagship Court in the Brickyard Cove neighborhood.
While Gordon and Margaret Bort Imrie only moved to Brickyard Cove six months ago, neighbors were happy to join them in welcoming Milo and thanking him for his service, relaxing local decorum by putting up signs and flags along the route home.
"It was a lot more than I expected. It was pretty cool," Milo Imrie said. "When you're on the receiving end, it's nice to know people care and appreciate you."
"I think the welcome home is as much for 'the office' as it is for the guy," Gordon Imrie said. "I think people realize this could be my son, this could be my daughter."
Milo Imrie is a serious young man who chooses his own path. Though his parents are religious, he is a declared atheist. Instead of continuing his education after graduating four years ago from Central High School in Hinsdale, Ill., he decided it was time to "take a break" from academics -- by joining the Marines.
"I toyed with the idea of military service for a long time," he said. "I was kind of burned out with school and wanted something different. I feel like every generation should put in its time."
The family has a long history of military service that dates to at least the Civil War and includes Imrie's maternal grandfather, Joseph Bort, who served during World War II before becoming a Berkeley councilman and Alameda County supervisor.
He has two older brothers, one a wildland firefighter who lives in the East Bay, the other living in Sunnyvale and serving as a reservist in the California Air National Guard.
All three brothers have faced occupational hazards, but "Milo the most," his father said, adding, "I don't think worrying is constructive. We've tried to keep a positive attitude."
Indeed, the 1,000-soldier Dark Horse company faced the heaviest resistance in the Afghan conflict, from Taliban supporters, opium growers and other insurgents. Casualties were so heavy that online appeals to "say a prayer for Dark Horse 3rd Battalion 5th Marines and their families" appeared frequently on social media networks.
"I kind of knew about the area before I went in, but it was worse than I expected," Imrie said. "I knew it would be hot going. I actually missed the first month, which was some of the worst action. They deployed me a month late, at the end of October."
Though there was some live combat, the main threat was from the roadside bombs known as IEDs, improvised explosive devices.
Overall, "people want peace. They do not like the Taliban," Imrie said.
"This is just my opinion, but no matter what they tell you in the newspapers back home, I think Afghanistan is 100 percent winnable if we stick with the plan, as opposed to a quick withdrawal," he said. "We saw the insurgents' capabilities decrease."
As for his own future, Imrie is ready to resume academics and has been accepted to UC Santa Barbara, where he plans to study biology or microbiology, with a career path still to be decided.
"It's been so long since I've been in school, I can't remember what I'm good at," he said. "Living in the dorms will be a transition from living in barracks."