Kings paying way home for Maine troops

Posted Dec. 11, 2009, at 9:07 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Stephen and Tabitha King had no problem donating money to ensure that the 150 members of Bravo Company of the 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Unit could come home for the holidays.

They did have a slight problem with the requested amount, though.

“Steve is such a numbers person,” said Julie Eugley, one of the author’s personal assistants. “When we were approached for $13,000, he thought that number was a little unlucky. He didn’t want any bad whammies associated with these troops.”

So instead the Kings donated $12,999 and Eugley chipped in the $1 to complete the request. That money will help pay for two bus trips — one from Camp Atterbury, Ind., to Portland, one from Camp Atterbury, Ind., to Bangor — for the soldiers of the Brewer-based 172nd, a division of the Maine Army National Guard.

Earlier this week, the unit departed from Maine for training at Camp Atterbury, Ind. They were scheduled to remain there until their January 2010 departure to Afghanistan, and even though they had a few days off for the holidays, they didn’t have the means to return home.

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Thomas “Skip” Chappelle, who runs Operation Community Support — a Bangor-based military assistance nonprofit agency — thought something needed to be done. So he solicited the Kings for money.

Eugley stressed that the donation came from the Kings’ personal accounts and not through the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, which does not donate for travel purposes.

“It was a pretty easy sell. I asked. Steve said yes,” Eugley said.

Operation Community Support, which Chappelle and other volunteers founded in 2003, incorporated as a nonprofit in 2007. The group seeks to ease the burden on deployed service members and their families statewide by coordinating sendoff ceremonies, buying Christmas gifts for military families and other efforts. The Kings’ $12,999 donation is the largest ever given to Operation Community Support.

“This is the best opportunity we’ve had to get the word out about what we do,” Chappelle said Friday.

The buses will be operated by Notch Above Tours of Colchester, Vt. The round-trip cost for each bus is $8,350. In addition to the donation from the Kings, Chappelle said the Family Assistance Center of the Maine Army National Guard would provide the remainder.

Maj. Gen. John W. Libby, adjutant general of the Maine Army National Guard, said the guard always tries to ensure that soldiers come home for the holidays as time permits. The donation from the Kings certainly made that much more feasible this time.

The bus ride from Indiana to Maine is more than 15 hours one way, but for soldiers heading home to see families before spending a year in Afghanistan, the long trip is worth it. They’re expected in Bangor around Dec. 23 and will leave shortly after Christmas.

“We all know what that does for soldiers and their families,” Chappelle said.

Members of the 172nd took part in an emotional sendoff ceremony on Monday at the University of Maine’s Collins Center for the Arts. 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.

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 re-deploy to Iraq in early March.

Since 2001, the Maine Army National Guard has sent more than 2,300 men and women to Iraq and Afghanistan. Nine have died.

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