BANGOR, Maine — The excitement surrounding the homecoming Monday of 16 Brewer-based soldiers deployed in Afghanistan for the past year could be heard in the voices of their loved ones.
Dot Roberts, mother of Spc. James “Jimmy” Shutts of Hermon, held his 3-month-old son, Elliot, in her hands in the minutes before he disembarked from the plane at Bangor International Airport and told the baby, “Daddy is going to love seeing you.”
“He’s going to cry,” his girlfriend, Kelli Leighton, predicted while standing nearby with her mother, Linda Leighton of Eddington, Shutts’ brother, Kody Roberts of Elliotsville, and a couple of nieces.
Shutts, a medic, did not cry, but his eyes watered when he kissed his girlfriend and took their child into his hands.
“I missed you,” he said.
The fact that the soldiers are home for Thanksgiving “is awesome,” Linda Leighton said. “Mostly it’s awesome that he’s back.”
Shutts, who is a volunteer firefighter for Hermon, was escorted home from the airport by two firetrucks.
Spc. Justin Harvey of Lincoln was met by his parents, Beth and Scott Harvey, his grandparents and his aunt and uncle. His mom held a white sign adorned with small U.S. flags that read, “Welcome home Justin.”
She said her son had very special plans for Monday afternoon. “He is going to find his girlfriend — she doesn’t know he’s coming.”
The homecoming was bittersweet for the 16 soldiers of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Mountain Infantry who landed at BIA on Monday, and one who arrived home Sunday evening, since most of their unit — 160 brothers-in-arms — are still in harm’s way at the unit’s combat outpost in Afghanistan.
“I feel a little bit guilty,” Staff Sgt. Nicholas Theriault of Lewiston could be heard telling family members who greeted him at Bangor’s airport.
“It’s pretty good” to be home, he said later. “It will be more grand when the rest of the guys get here.”
The remaining Brewer-based soldiers will leave Afghanistan a few days after Thanksgiving and are scheduled to arrive at BIA in small groups over the next couple of weeks, said Lt. Col. James “Jim” Campbell, executive officer for the 52nd Troop Command of the Maine Army National Guard. Campbell is a former commander for the unit.
“These guys are the only ones who will be home for Thanksgiving,” he said.
Theriault’s wife, Erin, two of his sisters, a brother-in-law and his mom watched as the soldier, who had just returned from his second overseas deployment, gathered his five young nieces and nephews into his arms.
“Hey, monsters. Do I get a hug or what?” he asked, a huge smile on his face.
Sgt. Maj. Scott Doyon of Clinton arrived home Sunday evening, and 12 soldiers from the 172nd arrived at BIA at around 11:45 a.m. Monday. A second commercial plane with four additional Mountain Infantrymen arrived late Monday afternoon. Members of the Maine Troop Greeters were on hand to welcome them home, as were other local soldiers.
Maj. Gen. John “Bill” Libby, adjutant general of the Maine Army National Guard, said the returning soldiers “don’t give a hoot that it’s Thanksgiving” — they are just happy to be back on United States soil.
“It’s a relief” to have them home, he said. “When these guys went off we knew it was going to be a dangerous deployment. I am extremely grateful” that they will all soon be home.
Libby gave accolades to Bravo Company’s commander, Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn, and said he will be happy when the 1136th Transportation Company returns in March.
The Brewer-based unit left Maine last December and trained at Camp Atterbury, Ind., and Fort Polk, La., before deploying to Afghanistan in mid-March.
The infantrymen have spent the last year “patrolling the border with Pakistan to prevent Taliban or other anti-Afghan militia from coming into Afghanistan,” Campbell said Sunday. “People need to know that these guys have done a fantastic job. They have really accomplished their mission.”
Four 172nd soldiers were injured in Afghanistan during gun battles while protecting its borders. One soldier was hurt seriously enough that he was sent to the U.S. in May to be treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. The other three had their wounds treated in Afghanistan.
“It was a rough year and it was a challenging year, but everybody lived to tell the tale,” Theriault said.
In addition to those mentioned above, the 172nd soldiers who returned Monday morning were: Spc. Ryan Curley of Bangor, Spc. Sean Dubois of Bangor, Spc. Denis Haiss of Greenbush, Spc. David Jones III of Bangor, Sgt. Soksan Pao of Standish, Spc. Aaron Smith of Bangor, Spc. Joel Tourtelotte of Monson, Pfc. Nicholas Weeks of Westbrook and Sgt. Nike Whitmore of Oakland.
The 172nd soldiers who returned Monday afternoon were: 1st Lt. Fredrick Bondole of Portland, Spc. Nicholas Brann of Norway, Pfc. Joseph Burke of South Portland and Sgt. Eric Christie of Richmond.
The unit’s Freedom Salute ceremony, which is their formal welcome home, is scheduled for Jan. 7 at the Collins Center for the Arts at the University of Maine.