BANGOR, Maine — The day after President Barack Obama told the country that the U.S. would be leaving Afghanistan, a contingency of eight from the Maine Army National Guard’s Detachment 14 are leaving for a year deployment in the war-ravaged country.
Gov. Paul LePage, congressional representatives, Chief Warrant Officer Darrell Stevens, senior warrant officer for the Guard, Brig. Gen. James Campbell and Command Sgt. Maj. Terrance Harris were on hand for the send-off ceremony for Detachment 14, Operational Support Airlift Command [OSACOM].
“I may be the governor, but you are doing the hard work,” the governor told the deploying soldiers. “I wish each and every one of you a safe journey. Hurry back.”
The Army aviation unit, which has deployed three times, has a two-part job — transporting officials over the mountains of Afghanistan and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, said Campbell, adjutant general for the Maine National Guard.
“It’s a small team but one that has a very, very important mission,” he said.
“They are an exceptional group and are dedicated to doing their job,” Chief Warrant Officer 5 Benjamin Ayer, a 33-year veteran who is staying home this deployment, said before the event started.
Seven of the eight members of Detachment 14 have deployed at least one time and one soldier has gone six times, commander Ron Ireland, a Chief Warrant Officer 4, said while individually introducing the four pilots and four air support staff members.
The governor got up to shake each soldier’s hand.
Sgt. 1st Class Brad Merrill has deployed overseas four times, once as an active duty member, and will be the unit’s platoon sergeant, Ireland said.
“I think we have to call him ‘the doctor,’” the commander said. “He has three master’s degrees.”
Merrill was single during his first two deployments, was dating his wife Jessica when he was deployed with the unit to Iraq in 2008, and now is leaving her and their 17-month-old son, Ethan.
“This time, definitely, I’ll be looking forward to the phone calls and Skype,” he said after the ceremony ended, with his wife nearby.
“We were dating like three months before he left the first time,” Jessica Merrill said. “We managed to make it. We Skyped like almost every day.”
The plan is to do the same during this deployment.
“We’ve geared up with iPads and smartphones,” Jessica Merrill said. “We’ve already tested them to make sure they work.”
The other Detachment 14 OSACOM members deploying with Ireland and Merrill are: Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mike McGovern, 4th deployment; Chief Warrant Officer Todd Lidback (3rd); Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dane Rasmussen (2nd); Sgt. 1st Class Justin Anderson (6th); Sgt. 1st Class Kevin DePrenger (3rd); and Sgt. Luke Noke, who is on his first deployment.
LePage and Campbell also thanked the family members who will be left at home and both told the soldiers that they would take care of their loved ones so they could concentrate on their job and returning safely.
“We’ve got your back,” Campbell said.
To end the ceremony, Ireland thanked Operation Community Support, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing services to military families and represented at the event by Harry Rideout and Skip Chappelle, for sponsoring the gathering.
Ayer, who was the master of ceremonies, had one final message for the group, just before dismissing them.
“We’ll have a hell of a party when you get back,” he said.
“At the Blaine House,” LePage piped in.
No one at the send-off ceremony mentioned the president’s State of the Union address, in which Obama said that 34,000 U.S. troops will come home this year and “by the end of the next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story requires correction. Darrell Stevens is a chief warrant officer, not staff sergeant.