BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor High School auditorium was alive with energy, anticipation and emotion on Saturday as 82 soldiers of the Maine Army National Guard’s 286th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion gathered with their families, friends, state officials, the state’s entire congressional delegation and other well-wishers for a ceremonial sendoff.
The unit is headed to southern Afghanistan after a few weeks of specialized training in Fort Hood, Texas. Their total length of deployment is expected to be one year.
Commanding officer Lt. Col. Diana Dunn of Glenburn said in an interview before the event that the group’s mission is to provision troops in all of southern Afghanistan, working out of the huge multinational military base in Kandahar.
“Food, fuel, water, ammunition, equipment, construction materials, repair parts … most of our work is planning,” she said. “It’s basically like managing a Hannaford, a Home Depot, a Poland Spring water plant, a NAPA parts plant on steroids, and a fuel farm.”
Dunn, a 20-year veteran of the Army, is the first female to serve as the commanding officer of a Maine Army Guard unit headed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Once there, she’ll assume leadership of about 600 American troops engaged in the provisions mission, assuring the availability of essential supplies to about 10,000 U.S. troops serving in the region.
Attending and speaking at the capacity-crowd event were Gov. John Baldacci, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, and U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree. Also on hand to honor the troops was Maj. Gen. John W. Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, and other military leaders.
Baldacci praised Libby for his leadership, calling members of the Maine Army Guard “some of the most capable men and women anywhere in the world.”
The governor noted that more than half of the soldiers headed for Afghanistan have deployed at least once before, and stressed the importance of supporting the families left behind so the troops can focus on their assignment.
Members of the congressional delegation also paid deep tribute to the families of the deploying soldiers, and assured the troops of the support of the American public and its political leaders.
“There is no cause more noble than that of defending our nation’s freedom and extending freedom’s blessings around the world,” Collins said. Collins also expressed appreciation for American troops helping to improve conditions for women in Afghanistan, long oppressed by the Taliban.
Michaud, recently renamed chairman of the health subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told the troops he is dedicated to improving health care services for veterans.
“We will live up to our commitment to each and every one of you when you need those services,” he said.
Libby reminded the soldiers that the new administration of President Obama is committed to winning the war on terrorism in Afghanistan.
“There is no question of the validity of your mission,” he said. “We are liberators, not occupiers.”
Seated toward the back of the packed auditorium was 31-year-old Sgt. Dakin Magoon of Enfield. He was flanked on one side by his mother and stepfather, Sue and Victor Morin of Passadumkeag, and on the other by his wife, 26-year-old Amanda Magoon. The couple’s 8-month-old daughter Kloie, dressed in ruffled pink and lime-green “fatigues,” giggled, grinned and flirted throughout the long speeches, staggering happily between the laps of the doting adults.
Dakin Magoon deployed in 2004 to Iraq.
“It’s a little harder this time,” he said. “Before, I was single. This time I have a wife and a kid.”
Amanda Magoon said she’s proud of her husband’s service to his country and is prepared to weather his absence with the support of extended family.
“All I need is regular communication from him; that’s really important to me,” she said.
Commanding officer Dunn, a 42-year-old mother of three, will be separated from her own children — ages 18, 16 and 9 — during her deployment, but she knows the family be well cared for by her husband, Jim. She plans to stay in regular contact.
“We’ve got webcams, Skype, text messages, all these things,” she said. “I’m an electronics addict.”
While friends and family members are concerned about her leaving her family behind, Dunn said such separations are simply part of the military commitment.
“I see other soldiers, male soldiers, leaving their children behind all the time,” she said. “It’s always hard.”
The troops will spend time with their families before flying to Fort Hood on Tuesday.