BELFAST, Maine — When American Legion Post 30 Commander Ronald Rainfrette came home from the Vietnam War, he found that veterans weren’t treated very well by some of his countrypeople.
That is one reason he wants to make sure to welcome the men and women who have served overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The American Legion has an obligation to honor these veterans,” he said Monday at Ming’s Garden Chinese restaurant before a small ceremony for Sgt. Matt Brown of Bucksport.
Brown, who has completed two tours in Iraq with a Maine Army National Guard Medevac Company, was given a flag and a pin in thanks for his service.
“That’s great,” Brown said after he admired the tan and brown Iraq flag. “I really appreciate this.”
The 2000 Bucksport High School graduate was in Iraq in 2003-04 and in 2007-08 with the 126th Aviation regiment, also known as the Black Bears. While overseas, Brown worked in flight operations to support the regiment’s mission of evacuating the wounded.
“From my point of view, what my unit does is really very fulfilling,” he said. “It’s saving people’s lives and bringing them to the hospital, and it’s for everybody. We don’t discriminate.”
The 126th flies helicopters into combat zones and evacuates injured soldiers and civilians. It first was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and was the first Maine Army Guard unit to enter the country. During its 2003-04 deployment, the unit flew 3,600 hours and evacuated more than 1,000 patients, according to Guard officials. During the last deployment, the Black Bears’ helicopter ambulance unit flew more than 3,000 hours and was responsible for evacuating more than 650 patients from war zones.
Rainfrette said he learned about Brown’s service by chance, after he stopped at Ming’s Garden for a bite to eat and talked with the friendly woman behind the counter. As it turned out, she is Brown’s girlfriend, Tina Chen, who also attended the ceremony.
“It was just a coincidence,” Rainfrette told the group gathered at the restaurant, adding that he appreciates “anything you young guys do.”
Brown, who now works full time as a technician with the Maine Army National Guard, said he feels the work done by Legion Post members is very important.
“They do a lot of really good things,” he said. “It’s really nice for them to reach out to different people.”