The first thing Eddie Mesa wanted to do was play a round of golf. 

After the lance corporal’s first seven-month tour with the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, the 22-year-old Santa Barbara man got that chance again Sunday at Ocean Meadows Golf Club in Goleta.

The laid-back pace of the golf course was a welcome change from Mesa’s workload — 18-hour days and 12-hour patrols were the norm, making the days go quickly. The work was far from easy, and incredibly dangerous. One of Mesa’s main tasks was finding and dismantling improvised explosive devices laid by insurgents. Unlike the movies, where a robot is sent in to find a huge bomb in need of dismantling, Mesa and his team mostly found their IEDs the old-fashioned way. 

With a metal detector. On foot.

And they were incredibly successful. During the seven months he was overseas, Mesa said he and his team found and dismantled more than 200 IEDs. After a tour like that, a round of golf to decompress made a lot of sense.

Holding the homecoming at Ocean Meadows made a lot of sense, too, where dozens of Mesa’s family and friends gathered to celebrate around the clubhouse patio — swathed in red, white and blue tinsel. 

It’s where Mesa got his first job at age 16, and where he worked until he was deployed. His manager at the club, Barbara Metcalf, said the young man started as a dishwasher in the restaurant, gradually working his way up to the front desk.

When Metcalf found out Mesa was going overseas to serve, she was confident.

“I said, ‘He’s gonna survive,’” Metcalf said. “He’s a great kid. It takes a special kind of person to go out and put your life on the line.”

As Mesa finished the last several holes of golf, his mother, Yvette Ensign, kept a watchful eye on the course. She also talked about finding out her son wanted to serve in the military.

“I was shocked, but it was an honor,” she said, adding that over the course of his absence, she learned to treasure the few phone conversations she had with her son. “It was very difficult, but I knew he was trained to be the best. This whole experience has made me a stronger person, and it’s made our family stronger.”

It hasn’t been without support from the larger community and from those close to the family. One of those people is Ensign’s best friend, Tina Carlisle. Her son and Mesa played baseball together as 10-year-olds and have grown up together, and she’s been by Ensign’s side throughout the deployment.

A lot of tears and prayers went into those months, she said: “It’s been a long wait for this.”

Ensign and her family drove to Camp Pendleton in San Diego last week to meet Mesa.

A chip shot at the ninth hole, and Mesa’s first game home was complete. Everyone cheered around the green and walked with him back to the clubhouse.

A beer was put in his hand, and Mesa told stories about his tour. At first they didn’t see any of the heavily covered Afghan women along their rounds. But after months of work, Mesa and his team began to see more women around them in public, what he interprets as a sign of growing trust. He also talked about the decision that put him in the service. After seeing family serve in the military, he went for it.

“It was to better myself and support my country,” he said.

Moving through time and cultures is disorienting, and being in Afghanistan and then less than a day later being at Camp Pendleton was “overwhelming,” Mesa said. After more training at the camp this summer, Mesa isn’t sure yet when he’ll be deployed again.

As family and friends gathered around to take a photo of Mesa, it was difficult for him to explain the gratitude. But the welcoming, the hugs of loved ones, mean everything, he said. “It’s hard to put into words.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.