Family, friends and other supporters of 150 soldiers from the Brewer-based Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry packed a nearly 1,500-seat concert hall at the University of Maine’s Collins Center for the Arts Monday night in Orono to bid the troops Godspeed and good luck.
The Maine National Guard unit recently returned from a three-week training session in Louisiana. After a visit home for Monday’s tribute, their preparation work will resume today, when they depart for additional training in Indiana, with a brief holiday break during that period.
The 172nd Infantry, which includes other companies from New England, will head overseas sometime after the first of the year as part of an Army brigade, though the exact time frame has yet to be disclosed.
During a nearly hour-long salute at the arts center, members of Bravo Company heard words of encouragement and praise from such top-shelf officials as Gov. John Baldacci and Maj. Gen. John W. Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard.
In his remarks, the governor asked Mainers to support the families of deployed troops “because it does matter to them when they’re doing what they’re doing that we work together to support them.
“All of Maine thanks you for your service,” he said. “We, your family members, your friends, are deeply appreciative of your efforts. We will eagerly await your return. And know that while you’re away from Maine and as the chief executive officer of this state, I promise you that this state will be there for your family as will your neighbors and your friends.
“All of Maine is proud of your service,” Baldacci said. “Know that we will continue to support you and your efforts because collectively, you represent the best of the state of Maine. God bless you, and God bless your families.’’
Libby, who also addressed the troops’ loved ones, shared some of what he told the troops Saturday, including some insight on their mission.
“We talked about the fact that this is a unique and difficult mission at a very difficult time in this nation’s history,” he said.
“For the first time since 1942, we’re sending an infantry unit off to do an infantry mission,” he said. “And the mission of the infantry, quite frankly, is to … destroy the enemy.”
Perhaps some of the most moving words, however, came from Bravo Company’s commander, Capt. Paul Bosse, an Old Town native now living in Auburn.
During his remarks, Bosse spoke of his soldiers’ role in world history. While he said he doesn’t claim to know how the war will play out, he does believe that one day, members of Bravo Company will be able to “take pride in being able to say, ‘I was there,’ and take pride in knowing you were part of it, part of this generation.”
In case the troops were looking for inspiration, Bosse held up two of Maine’s Medal of Honor recipients as examples — Civil War Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, a Brewer native, and Col. Lewis L. “Red” Millett, who served during World War II, the Korean War and in Vietnam. Millett grew up in Mechanic Falls and died last month in California at the age of 88.
Both men led legendary bayonet charges — Chamberlain at Little Round Top and Millett in South Korea, said Bosse, who earned a history degree at the University of Maine.
“Bravo Company, believe me. It’s in our blood as Mainers. When you find yourself on the battlefield with bayonets fixed, remember this: Our history as Mainers tells us without hesitation we’ll give ’em cold steel,” Bosse said, drawing applause from the crowd.
On Monday, the parents, children, spouses and friends of the soon-to-be-deployed troops were spending some of the last quality time they will share until the unit returns.
Susan and Stan Maiden of Hampden were in Orono to cheer on their only son, Andrew Chic, 23, also of Hampden.
Chic, who is gearing up for his first deployment, is a Hampden Academy graduate who until recently was studying political science on the Orono campus. He said Monday that he plans to resume his studies when he returns.
“We’re very, very proud,” Stan Maiden said.
The Maidens said they’ve known about the impending deployment for some time now but that the send-off had driven the point home.
“It didn’t really sink in until now,” Susan Maiden said.
According to published reports, by early 2010, the Maine Army National Guard will have deployed about 50 percent of its force overseas to Iraq or Afghanistan. The 133rd Engineer Combat Battalion, with 540 soldiers, returned from Iraq in 2005 and tentatively is scheduled to redeploy to Iraq in early March.
Since 2001, the Maine National Guard has sent more than 2,300 men and women to Iraq and Afghanistan. Nine have died.