BELFAST, Maine — Maine Army National Guard engineers from all over the state — part of Taskforce Maine — began to return home Friday after around two weeks in Vermont rebuilding roads and bridges ravaged by Tropical Storm Irene.
“They made an extraordinary difference in the recovery of the people in the state of Vermont,” Lt. Col. Lloyd Goodrow, Vermont National Guard spokesman, said Saturday.
Armed with 169 pieces of heavy equipment — excavators, dump trucks, loaders, graders and others — Taskforce Maine rolled into Vermont to help shortly after the storm, Capt. Shanon Cotta of the Maine National Guard said.
“We responded within 36 hours” and arrived at Rutland, Vt. at 4 a.m., he said. “It was just incredible.”
The severe flooding caused by Irene resulted in damages totaling in the millions to the Green Mountain State, and people outside of the westernmost New England state “don’t understand the devastation of the roads down there,” Cotta said.
Most of the 200 citizen soldiers from Maine, who typically are deployed to assist with “roadway maintenance, improvements and construction,” arrived home by Saturday, said Capt. Jason R. White, the outgoing commander of the 262nd Engineering Company, based in Belfast and Westbrook.
Capt. Norman Stickney, commander of the 262nd and Taskforce Maine, said six engineering companies from Maine were deployed to lend a hand and were joined other National Guard units from Virginia, West Virginia and South Carolina.
“Our total numbers overall were about 300,” Stickney said. “We did debris removal, we cleaned out rock and down trees from blocked over passes … [and] we helped to rebuild the roadway of Route 107” a “well travelled major route in Vermont along the White River.”
In addition to Route 107, Taskforce Maine also repaired other roads within a 30-mile radius of Rutland.
Other National Guard units from New Hampshire and Illinois used helicopters to ferry emergency supplies to cut off towns shortly after the storm hit, and a detachment from Ohio also assisted with the flooding, Stickney said.
Gov. Paul LePage said earlier this month that six members of the Maine Air National Guard’s 265th Combat Communications Squadron of South Portland also were dispatched and he estimated costs for the Maine deployment, including personnel and equipment costs, would be around $1.5 million. As part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, Vermont will reimburse Maine for expenses related to this deployment, he said.
Taskforce Maine was made up of soldiers from the 136 Engineering Company in Skowhegan and Lewiston, 185th Engineering Support Company from Caribou, 251st Engineering Company SAPPER of Norway, the Forward Support Company in Portland, Headquarters Support Company of Gardiner and the 262nd, Stickney said, adding, “All are members of the 133rd [Engineering] Battalion.”
Taskforce Maine was deployed to Rutland, Vt., and spent 16 days doing everything they could to help.
“When the Maine guys came in they came in with over 100 piece of equipment and they came to work,” Goodrow said. “And they got right to work.”
He also said, “They were literally helping to unite communities that were no longer united because of hurricane Irene. The engineers from Maine came in and got right to work and got communities connected again.”
Local folks are very grateful, and have shown their thanks with messages left with the Vermont National Guard, that are being sent to Maine.
“‘Thank you’ is by no means sufficient to express the gratitude and pride that I want to convey to all of you for the amazing work you’ve been doing, day in and day out,” Karla Kruse of Woodstock, Vt. said in a Friday email.
“They were so eager to get to work and get us back to some sort of semblance of normality, I was impressed,” retired Sgt. Maj. James Hall, of Rutland, Vt. said in another email.
While most of Taskforce Maine is home or will soon be home, the work in Vermont is not done so a group of 13 will remain deployed, Stickney said.
“They will be there through October,” he said. “They will continue to use the engineering equipment — loaders, excavators, chain saws” and other tools left behind, to help out where needed.
“It started out as a Vermont National Guard mission and it ended up as a National Guard mission,” Goodrow said. “It makes every one of us very proud to wear this uniform and be members of the National Guard. It’s neighbors helping neighbors.”
The Associate Press contributed to this story.