AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of the Maine Army National Guard’s 1136th Transportation Company are back on U.S. soil and are scheduled to return to Maine on Tuesday, a family member said.
The group returned stateside last week from Afghanistan and originally was scheduled to be home over the weekend, then Monday and now Tuesday, said Hermon resident Laura Smith, wife of Staff Sgt. Travis Smith.
“They changed things so many times that until tomorrow comes I won’t believe it,” she said Monday afternoon. “Travis is going to call me when they hit Massachusetts.”
The 173 members of the 1136th based out of Bangor, Calais and Sanford left the state in March 2010 and spent about 10 months in Kabul, Afghanistan, providing force protection to fellow troops “for two of the most strategically important headquarters in Afghanistan,” spokesman Capt. Shanon Cotta of the Maine Army National Guard said Monday.
One of the headquarters was that of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was succeeded as the head of coalition forces in Afghanistan last year by Gen. David Petraeus. The other one was Camp Eggers, home of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and the Combined Security Transition Command, he said.
“The unit set itself apart by displaying outstanding devotion and superior performance despite exceptionally difficult requirements and tasks,” Cotta said.
All have returned home safely, he said.
The Maine unit has been at Fort Dix, N.J., since March 2 and is scheduled to be bused back to Maine on Tuesday, with an arrival window of 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Smith said.
The Maine soldiers will be taken to the Augusta Armory, where friends and family will be on hand to greet them.
“Some of the girls are already down in Augusta,” Smith said, referring to the wives of soldiers. “They are going to spend the night and I’m sure everyone will be there at 9:30 a.m.”
Smith’s husband is from Caribou, and his parents, Barbara and Phil Smith, also have left for the state capital, she said. They are staying with another son, John Smith, who is a former member of the military. All will be at the homecoming, and Laura Smith said she is taking the rest of the week off to spend with the man she loves.
She said she’ll leave the Bangor area when her husband calls from the Bay State.
“I’ll still beat him by an hour,” Smith said. “Tomorrow’s drive down will be exciting.”
Travis and Laura Smith are the parents of four girls and a son, ages 12 to 26, and have used the Internet to keep in touch while he was serving his country.
“It seems like he’s not that far away because you can see him and talk to him,” Laura Smith said in January about communicating by using Skype, Facebook and e-mail. “It’s great.”
Like many in his unit, Travis Smith is not on his first deployment. He also served in Kuwait during 2003. Smith is a military policeman this time around and earned a medal for his service, his wife said Monday.
“Anyone coming in [to the base] they had to X-ray and search,” she said. “His team did that for a year without anybody getting hurt.”
Her husband showed her the medal on Skype, Smith said.
“I had to Google it to see what it was,” she said. “He was very modest about it.”
Maine State Police troopers will be waiting at the state line to escort the troop transport buses to Augusta. The soldiers will be greeted by their families and friends at the armory, and are scheduled to be debriefed later, Smith said.
“They have to report back Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.,” she said. “They are supposed to let them go at around noon” on Wednesday.
With the return in December of Brewer’s Bravo Company and of the 1136th on Tuesday, most of the state’s National Guard members will be home. But a few are still overseas.
“We currently have 36 soldiers still deployed in the Maine National Guard. That includes the Army and the Air Force,” Staff Sgt. Esther Kazian of the Maine Army National Guard said Monday afternoon. “They are deployed in the Middle East, Afghanistan or Iraq.”
Army wives Jenny Phillips of Old Town, who is married to Lt. Nic Phillips, and Bangor resident Elizabeth Tilton, wife of Spc. Joshua Tilton, met up with Laura Smith last Friday and the trio “went to Applebee’s to celebrate, and then Saturday we all went and got our nails done,” Smith said.
A homecoming celebration for her husband is planned for Saturday at Hero’s Sports Grill, a Bangor bar and restaurant, Smith said.
“Hero’s is where we had his going-away party, so I wanted to have his welcome home party at the same place,” she said, adding, “The name is fitting.”