BREWER, Maine — Christine Fairservice and her two children, 7-year-old Michael and not-quite-3-year-old Phoebe, said their goodbyes just over two weeks ago. Sure, there was always that slim chance that her husband, Sgt. Jim Fairservice, might be home for the holidays, but the family was prepared for Christmas without dad.
Then luck — and a little holiday benevolence — intervened.
Thanks to a large donation from Bangor authors Stephen and Tabitha King, Sgt. Fairservice and other members of Bravo Company of the 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Unit, were able to return to Maine for a brief Christmas break. An overnight, 15-hour bus ride from Camp Atterbury, Ind., ended at the Brewer Armory late Wednesday morning. (Another bus carrying soldiers stopped in Portland earlier Wednesday morning.)
“We weren’t sure until early last week that we would see him,” Christine Fairservice, 31, said inside the armory shortly before the bus arrived. Her children ran around the gymnasium floor, burning off nervous energy. Phoebe wore a polka-dot dress. Michael wore a camouflage shirt. Like father like son.
“It’s going to be a good Christmas,” their mother said.
There was no fanfare at the Brewer Armory on Wednesday. No hero’s welcome. Just family members hoping to soak up a few more days with their loved ones before the 172nd is deployed for 12 months to Afghanistan. The unit will return to Indiana on Jan. 1.
Capt. Paul Bosse, commander of Bravo Company of the 172nd, said he thinks the time home will have extended benefits.
“If the guys were back there training, they wouldn’t be focused anyway,” Bosse said by phone late Wednesday from his home in Auburn. He was on the bus that stopped in Portland.
As for the generosity of the Kings, Bosse noted that the story received national media attention while his unit was training in Indiana.
“Growing up [in Old Town], I always was amazed by their generosity, but I’m not sure everyone knows,” Bosse said. “That’s probably the way [the Kings] want it, too, which I can respect.”
Angela Baker, who is nine months’ pregnant and due any day now, said the surprise trip home is the best gift she could hope for. It means that her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Brian Baker, will likely be present for the birth of their son.
Angela, of Pittsfield, said she understands what her husband is going through perhaps more than most. She also is a soldier and completed her own deployment to Iraq not long ago.
For the Fairservice family of Gardiner, this is their first deployment. Christine said she’s taking it surprisingly well.
“Someone needs to do what he does,” she explained, glancing at her phone, waiting for her husband to call and update her on the arrival of the bus. “I’m proud that he wants to.”
The infantry unit left Maine on Dec. 8 for Camp Atterbury. The plan was to train there for about a month, then deploy overseas. The soldiers had time off around the holidays, but they didn’t have a way to get home. That’s where the Kings came in with a Christmas present to dozens of families. The Fairservice family would gladly trade that for any gifts.
“The kids were ready to give up all their presents to have him home,” Christine said.
The Maine Army National Guard, which oversees the 172nd, attempts to make arrangements to bring troops home whenever possible, but it doesn’t always happen. Operation Community Support, a Bangor-based military assistance nonprofit, solicited the Kings for a donation. The rest came from the Guard’s Family Assistance Center.
At about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Christine answered her phone. The bus was close. She corralled her son and daughter, helped them with their winter coats and walked outside to greet Sgt. Fairservice.
He stepped off the bus in his military fatigues, almost directly into the waiting arms of his children. The hug lingered. He kissed his wife.
Within minutes, the Fairservice family was on the road back home to Gardiner. They will have to say goodbye again soon and then will have to contend with nearly a year without dad.
For now, though, Christmas was waiting.