BATH, Maine — Maine’s long tradition of sending men and women to war is celebrated and well documented, as is the state’s support of uniformed personnel.
For military units, emotional send-offs and upbeat welcome-home parties are commonplace, and usually there is media coverage that lets Mainers know of the myriad sacrifices being made all around them.
Sometimes, though, as is the case with Naval Reservist Roger Duncan of Bath, who leaves for Afghanistan in the next few weeks, the send-off is more solitary, in this case with his wife bringing him to the airport and saying goodbye for what could be seven or eight months, or more. Chief Petty Officer Duncan, who is a mass-communication specialist, is being plucked from his unit alone for an extended stay in Kabul. In military lingo it’s called an “individual augmentation.”
“In some ways, my story is not typical,” said Duncan on Monday. “I’m not the only one, though. I’m part of a team who’s doing what needs to be done in Afghanistan.”
Aside from his lone deployment, Duncan, 41, a freelance photographer, is a bit atypical for a Navy Reservist because he didn’t join until he was 30 years old and unlike a lot of other reservists, he didn’t have any prior military service nor a strong military tradition in his family.
“For me, I just wanted to be able to serve my country, show my photos to people and make a living,” he said.
Since he joined the reserves in November 2000, Duncan has been on active deployment for a total of 30 months — 21 of them as a guard at Brunswick Naval Air Station following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He has also been deployed to several areas in Africa for mostly humanitarian missions, but this marks the first time he has ever been to an active war zone.
Though Kabul at times is far from a peaceful place, Duncan does not expect to be involved in combat. He will be a public affairs officer and responsible for, among other things, acting as a liaison between the military and professional journalists covering the war.
“If you’re a journalist, I’m the guy who knows where you are when the general wants to know,” he said. “There are people in Afghanistan doing things that are far more daring than what I’m going to be doing.”
Duncan, who holds a degree in studio art from Lawrence University and attended graduate studies in photojournalism at the University of Missouri, expects to oversee a staff of several. Though the job is not on the battlefront, Duncan knows there will be risks — he talks somberly about a combat photographer who was killed by a roadside bomb in the Middle East — that he will spend most of his days wearing armor and at times, he will carry weaponry. But he has had a long time to prepare himself. In the past few years he has been told more than once that he would be deployed, only to have those plans change. That won’t be the case this time, he said.
“That fact that I’m actually going now is a relief,” said Duncan.
That doesn’t make it any easier, especially as he faces his longest-ever stint away from his wife, Martina, and their 4-year-old daughter. In recent days Duncan has busied himself leaving the homestead in the best shape possible: he has sealed the cracks in his driveway, put his car up for sale, read a book written for military children called “Over There” to his daughter numerous times, and brought his wife’s wedding ring to a jeweler for maintenance. On Monday he hung a family service banner on the front of his home which signifies that his family will soon have a member at war.
“I’m trying to be supportive of my family in every way I can,” he said. “I’m doing what I can to keep the wheels turning.”
To some, a soldier or sailor’s time away from family is unfathomable, but like countless other families — the Maine National Guard alone has 60 personnel deployed with another 100 leaving soon for Kuwait — the Duncans have adjusted. Even their young daughter.
“She knows I go to the Navy,” said Duncan. “I think she gets it.”