BANGOR, Maine — Families and friends of the Maine Army National Guard’s 1136th Transportation Company filled the terminal at Bangor International Airport on Thursday morning after learning the unit was stopping for a short visit before deploying to Afghanistan.
“He called at about 1 a.m.” to say the 1136th was coming through Maine, Toby Mailman of Danforth said of his son, Sgt. Emmett Mailman of Howland.
The short visit with his son was “awesome,” he said after the troops departed. “We haven’t seen him in two months.”
The Maine soldiers disembarked from their plane at about 9 a.m. for a 2-hour visit.
Standing near the front of the crowd that greeted the troops was a group of 13 relatives and friends of Spc. James Lawler of Palmyra, who held Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and food from Noah’s Landing in Dexter.
“You have to have the best of the best,” said his aunt, Krissy Lawler of Palmyra.
The group began singing “Happy Birthday” as soon as they saw the youngest member of the 1136th emerge from the hundreds of soldiers walking into the terminal.
When Lawler saw his family, the birthday boy, who turned 20 on Tuesday, turned a bright red in embarrassment, a color that nearly matched his red hair.
“It’s awesome,” his mom, Dexter resident Lori Lawler said of having the opportunity to see her son before he heads off to war.
The Lawler group included his dad, Chuck Lawler, brother, grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins.
All the troops were greeted with cheers from family members and friends and handshakes from Maine Troop Greeters.
Maj. Gen. John “Bill” Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, and around 20 members of the 286th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, based in Bangor, were on hand to welcome the Mainers.
The Maine unit’s 170 soldiers, who are based out of Bangor, Calais and Sanford, left Maine in mid-March for training at Fort Hood, Texas. The 1136th will conduct force protection operations in Afghanistan, providing area security for base installations.
While walking into BIA, several soldiers took time to stop and pat a petite yellow lab standing near the entrance, and others offered greetings such as “Hey, Honey.”
Honey, an abandoned mixed breed who was adopted in Texas by some members of the 1136th, was one of a half-dozen dogs that were at the sendoff.
“You guys heard about Honey?” Winterport resident Spec. David Richardson asked his family while holding his 1-month old nephew. “She was a stray dog” the unit adopted as an honorary member.
The unit’s members passed a hat and collected enough funds to ship the dog to Maine. Honey arrived in Portland on Tuesday and was brought to the airport Thursday by new owner Connie Farquharson of Calais, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Kevin Farquharson, is deploying.
“We did some pretty intense training down there,” Kevin Farquharson said at the airport, while patting his new dog. “So it’s important to have something else.”
The skinny canine had been hanging around the unit’s training area in Texas and “we adopted her,” Spec. Ricky Murray of Fairfield Center said. “She’s a beautiful dog. She’s quite the morale booster.”
A Facebook page was created so soldiers in the unit can keep track of their honorary member, who has a social calendar filled with events for families of the deployed soldiers.
The Maine group left Texas on Tuesday for Kentucky, where they joined forces with troops from the 101st Airborne Division. The entire group left Bangor at around 11 a.m. to continue on their way to an undisclosed destination in Afghanistan.
During the short visit, Mailman got to see his parents; his wife, Holly Mailman, who is 19½ weeks pregnant; her parents and sister, and the couple’s daughter, Emmaleigh, 1. His wife had a doctor’s appointment on Thursday morning before the flight arrived, and she was able to tell him news about his unborn child.
“His wife told him he was going to have a little boy,” his father, Toby Mailman, said proudly. “His face lit up like a little Roman candle.”
When another 250 or so soldiers from the 101st arrived just after 10 a.m., the Lawler group headed to the first floor of the airport to escape the crowds.
James Lawler never let go of the two takeout containers from Noah’s Landing that his family brought him.
“My mom’s a baker [at the restaurant], and when I go there I always get chicken fingers and Boston doughnuts,” he said.
Standing beside him was Spec. William Gula of Clinton, who was drinking one of the Dunkin‘ Donuts coffees the family brought. The two said the food and drink are tastes of Maine they will miss while overseas.
As the troops began to prepare to re-board their plane, Lawler’s aunt made a wish.
“All Maine troops should fly into Bangor” so relatives can give them a proper goodbye, she said. “It’s a good morale booster for them.”
The soldiers began boarding the plane to leave at 10:45 a.m.
Families and friends, many with tears in their eyes or rolling down their faces, kissed and hugged their loved ones before sending them off. The troop greeters shook their hands and told them that they would see them when they got back.
“Today was a good day,” said Tom Kohl, troop greeter chairman. “The only thing that will be better is when they come home.”