BANGOR, Maine — Soldiers from the Maine 1136th Transportation Company who served in Kabul, Afghanistan, over the past year didn’t build bridges or construct roads — their typical job when sent into action. They created a secure working environment for fellow U.S. and coalition soldiers in the Afghan capital’s “Green Zone.”
The 173 Maine Army National Guard citizen soldiers provided force protection at Camp Eggers and New Kabul Compound — two of the most important headquarters in Afghanistan — and did so without a single security incident in their 10-month deployment, a fact that makes Capt. Peter Carter, commander of the 1136th since October 2008, very proud.
“They did a fantastic job,” he said this week.
Unlike civilian jobs, where an eight-hour day is the norm, his soldiers from Bangor, Calais and Sanford started work the day they landed in Afghanistan in May 2010 and stopped when they returned stateside in March.
“They literally worked every day,” said Carter, who is originally from Sedgwick but now lives in Belfast. “The majority of our soldiers worked 12-hour days, seven days a week. The shortest day I had was a 14-hour day.
“They never became complacent,” he added. “They served me very well. There is definitely a work ethic and professionalism that comes from being from Maine.”
New Kabul Compound, or NKC, is the headquarters for Gen. David Petraeus, who is head of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, a job held until last year by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and Camp Eggers is home to the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command. Both lie inside the capital city’s “Green Zone,” which also contains the U.S. Embassy and other embassies, the Afghan Ministry of Defense and the presidential palace.
Soldiers in the 1136th used walk-through full-body scanners, the same ones that have caused an uproar at airports stateside, to search up to 1,000 people and vehicles daily for explosives and other dangerous devices. The primary mission of the U.S. and coalition forces is to train and mentor Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army troops, Carter said.
“We basically secured those bases so that mission could occur,” he said. With the 1136th providing security, the commanders “could focus just on that mission so the coalition and U.S. forces can get out of that country and the Afghanistan police and army can get to work.”
In addition to protecting Camp Eggers and NKC, 20 of the 1136th soldiers were stationed at Camp Bala Hissar to protect the aerostat, a floating blimp with high-resolution cameras that watches over the city of more than 3 million.
Carter also hand-selected a group of 15 Maine soldiers to work at the Joint Visitors Bureau, which escorted dignitaries such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and visiting U.S. senators, as well as ambassadors from all over the world. “They even escorted folks like Robin Williams, who did a USO show,” Carter said.
The weekend warriors from Maine became active duty personnel during their 10 months in the war zone, and joined forces with the soldiers in South Dakota’s 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, who call themselves Task Force Rushmore.
While there were “only a handful of incidents” in the time the Mainers were in harm’s way, one incident that happened on Sept. 2, 2010, will surely remain a constant memory for three of Carter’s soldiers from Calais.
“A rocket landed in their compound,” the commander said. “It landed within 25 meters of where I had soldiers on guard duty. Fortunately, it was a dud.”
Spc. Katie Smith, Sgt. Teddy Cummings and Spc. Stephen Lincoln handled the situation with the 107-mm rocket admirably and earned Combat Action Badges, Carter said.
The unit suffered no combat injuries while serving 6,364 miles from home, but one solider who was home on leave injured himself skiing and afterward remained stateside, Carter said.
With the compound’s air conditioned permanent housing, 24-7 Internet connection, beauty salons and fantastic food, “if you are going to a theater, this is where you want to go,” Carter said.
Meeting people from about 30 different countries and being exposed to their cultures is something Carter and his troops will keep with them for the rest of their lives.
“If there was anyone who had soldiers in Afghanistan, we met them,” he said. “That was interesting.”
For example, about 50 of the 200 or so Mongolian soldiers in Afghanistan worked with the 1136th. Since only five of the Mongolians spoke English, communicating was a challenge at times, but the food they cooked for the Mainers brought the two groups of foreign soldiers together, Carter said.
With today’s Internet technology, such as Skype video chatting, email and Facebook, the men and women of the 1136th could easily keep in touch with their loved ones, Carter said, adding that he talked to his wife, Courteny Porter, almost daily.
“It’s instantaneous, so it’s almost like you are there,” he said. “It makes a connection.”
Staff Sgt. Dale Bergeron used Skype to keep in touch with students in Tremont and Glenburn, who adopted the unit just before they left Maine. The local schoolchildren also sent over traditional care packages through the mail that had cookies, newspapers and other items, the commander said.
Carter’s soldiers, their families and community members who supported the unit will be honored at a Freedom Salute ceremony 6 p.m. Friday at the University of Maine’s Collins Center for the Arts. The event is their formal welcome home.
Gov. Paul LePage, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, Maj. Gen. John W. Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, and other dignitaries are scheduled to be on hand at the ceremony to say thank you to the unit. The soldiers’ families also will attend and will be honored for providing support from home.