AUGUSTA, Maine — An 18-pack of beer, anchoring a “Welcome Home” balloon, tethered by a ribbon.
That’s what awaited Master Sgt. David Morrison upon his return — with 172 other Maine National Guard troops — from Afghanistan on Tuesday, his wife joining hundreds of others gathered to greet the returning soldiers at the Augusta State Armory.
“It’s tradition,” said Bev Morrison of Baileyville, who had a similar gift ready for her husband after an earlier tour. “We told him, you’re not going back,” said Morrison. “He’s retiring.”
To the sound of cheers and applause, the members of the 1136th Transportation Company marched into the armory, where Gov. Paul LePage led other officials and their representatives in welcoming them home.
The soldiers shipped out last March to Afghanistan, where they provided security for bases and convoys against Taliban and al-Qaida forces.
About three dozen Maine-based Guard troops still are serving in Afghanistan and the Middle East, said Capt. Shanon Cotta. The spokesman emphasized that the Guard continues to train, equip and mobilize troops for duty in that region.
On Tuesday, each was presented with a single rose and the unit was dismissed. Then the khaki-clad soldiers made a beeline for their wives, girlfriends, families and friends.
One of them took a moment to say how he felt: “Good to be home,” said Sgt. Murray Scott.
It was going to be a sweet reunion between Amanda Kelly of Winthrop and Spc. Ryan Kelly, former high school sweethearts who were married for only 12 hours before Ryan shipped out after leave last July.
“It’ll be eight months and a week since I’ve seen him,” said Amanda. “We’re going to New Hampshire for a little honeymoon. He planned it, so [the location] will be a surprise.”
Barry and Cindy Porter held hands and smiled as they crossed the armory floor, waiting for their son-in-law Capt. Peter Carter. The couple said they lived with their daughter Cindy since he left. They had to find something to do to pass the time, and as a result Carter will get a big surprise when he returns.
“We’ve painted the entire house,” said Barry Porter. “We started in one room, and went from there. Upstairs and downstairs.”
James Kendall came all the way from the eastern Maine town of Wytopitlock to greet his cousins Sgts. Jim and Chris Irish, whom he last saw about a year ago.
“I’m glad they’re home in one piece and I look forward to spending time with them,” said Kendall. “I’m very proud of them.”
The 1136th Transportation Company is stationed in Sanford, Bangor and Calais. In 2003, the unit deployed to Kuwait and southern Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.