BANGOR, Maine — Last Friday, Brian Baker greeted incoming troops while leaving Bangor International Airport as a regular passenger. On Monday afternoon, he returned as one of 128 troops being greeted.
“This time was a little different,” said the Bangor native, who was at BIA on a stopover between Texas and Ireland. “Mostly I’m on the other side, greeting military members when they come in. It was different being on the other end today.”
Baker, one of 500 military personnel being deployed to Iraq as members of Navy Customs Group 14, is a U.S. Navy veteran who will be on loan to the Army for a yearlong deployment providing border patrol and customs duties north of Baghdad.
“It’s not really a surprise,” Baker said about being on loan to the Army. “Most Navy reservists are assigned to the Army, so that wasn’t a surprise. The surprise was getting the notice that I was being recalled to mobilize and go overseas.”
It was only a little more than 25 months after ending his 10-year active Navy career that the third-year reservist was notified of his deployment. The naval ET 2 — electronics technician and petty officer second class— will be a sergeant during his Army stint.
“I’m an electronics technician dealing with computer, copier and printer repair,” he said. “There’s really no comparison to that with customs training, but they say they can train any sailor to do customs as long as they have their background training.”
And that’s what the repair technician for Oce Imagistics in Hampden has been doing since March.
“They’re saying I’m going to Balaal, Iraq, and most of the work there is passenger- and aircraft-related, making sure there’s not any kind of loose soil, vegetation or contaminants coming in on the plane or luggage or going out,” said the former varsity football player and member of Bangor High School’s Class of 1996. “It’s basically the TSA for the military.”
A former substitute carrier for the Bangor Daily News, Baker awoke at 3 a.m. Monday and couldn’t get back to sleep before flying out of Texas.
“I’m not sure what to expect. It’s a different situation,” Baker said of his new assignment.
Baker, 32, was home on vacation for two weeks until Friday. On his return Monday, he was greeted once again by a small group of family and friends.
“This is the final goodbye. Friday, we knew he was coming back,” said mother Sandra Baker. “We just hope for him to be safe.”
Baker, who served on aircraft carriers USS Enterprise and USS John F. Kennedy, said he got little customs training at Army bases in Texas and New Mexico.
“Most of our training was in southern New Mexico near Fort McGregor and at Fort Bliss near El Paso,” he said. “It was mostly basic combat and weapons qualifications. Only a few days were actual customs training. Most of our training for that will be on-site.”
Baker’s father admitted he was concerned for his son’s safety.
“He was fairly safe on a ship before, but that’s a dangerous area over there with a lot of bombing,” said Ed Baker. “You never know, even on a base.”