ORONO, Maine — Staff Sgt. Dale Bergeron of the Maine Army National Guard’s 1136th Transportation Company has ties to the communities of Glenburn and Tremont.
Thanks to the students of schools in both towns, Bergeron and the rest of the 1136th will be well cared for during their coming deployment to Afghanistan.
Some of the 60 members of third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classes in the two schools were recognized Saturday afternoon during a sendoff ceremony for the 1136th in front of a standing-room-only crowd at the University of Maine’s Collins Center for the Arts.
More than 1,400 people, including Gov. John Baldacci, the four members of Maine’s congressional delegation and University of Maine President Robert Kennedy, attended the sendoff. Dozens more people stood in the Collins Center lobby to listen to the ceremony.
The 1136th left Sunday morning for Fort Hood, Texas, where the troops will train for a few weeks before shipping off to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“You are ready for this mission,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said as she addressed the crowd, which included the troops, their families and members of the public. “You’ve trained diligently. You’ve worked hard and you have the skills you need. And you have exceptional leadership.”
The 1136th, which last served overseas in 2003 in Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom, has stations in Bangor, Calais and Sanford, and administrative headquarters in Bangor.
The unit learned last June it would be deployed to Afghanistan to conduct what is known as a security force mission, according to a Bangor Daily News story in January, which entails providing base and convoy security to U.S. Army units in Afghanistan. Those orders could change, however, Capt. Peter Carter, the commander of the 1136th, said at the time.
It was Carter who called Saturday for the Glenburn and Tremont students to come forward for recognition. Bergeron’s daughter Jacquie, a fifth-grader at the Glenburn School, presented her father and Carter with a teddy bear for the unit to take to Afghanistan.
The connection between the coastal Tremont school and more rural Glenburn school came about through Bergeron and his sister Amy Murphy, who both grew up in Tremont.
Bergeron and his wife, Darlene, now live in Glenburn with Jacquie and their son Andrew, who also attends the Glenburn School. Murphy continues to live in Tremont, where her children, Paige and Parker, are fifth-graders at Tremont Consolidated School.
Murphy had discussed recently with some Tremont teachers the trouble families often have when the troops are deployed. The Tremont teachers reached out to the Glenburn School and a service-learning project, Project S.P.O.T.S. — which stands for Students Promise Our Troops Support — was born.
“What we’re trying really hard to get the kids to understand is that the things they take for granted, like being able to have Mom or Dad read to them at night and tuck them into bed, are things that a lot of kids can’t have because their parents are serving their country,” said Tremont librarian Crystal Dow, who with education technician Becky Hopkins had organized several previous veterans projects at the school.
They’re working with Glenburn fifth-grade teacher Abbie Griffin, who has Jacquie Bergeron in her class. Both schools toured the Army Reserve Center with Dale Bergeron and Carter on Feb. 26.
The students plan to work on a number of projects this year to keep in touch with the 1136th. They are learning how to use the Internet video-chatting technology Skype to communicate between schools to discuss projects.
The students also intend to send the soldiers care packages which will include copies of newspapers from all 16 Maine counties, reflecting the statewide makeup of the unit. Troops in the 1136th hail from as far south as Sanford and as far north as Caribou.
“It’s supporting the troops and knowing that we’re helping them and their families,” Parker Murphy said. “It’s a great experience.”
Operation Community Support of Bangor organized a luncheon Saturday for the students before the ceremony and donated T-shirts for the students and teachers.
At least two of the Tremont teachers had Dale Bergeron as a student when he was a youngster.
“I think this is great,” said Bergeron, who attended the sendoff with his wife, Darlene, the 1136th’s family readiness group leader for Bangor. “It’s getting the kids involved with civic responsibility. Everybody’s got their own opinions about the war, but it’s teaching them to support the troops no matter what. And it’ll be nice to get letters and care packages, to show they’re thinking of us.”
The sendoff ceremony was organized by Operation Community Support and the Guard’s Family Assistance Center in Augusta.