GARDINER, Maine — Sgt. 1st Class Randal Parker has spent 24 years in uniform and has deployed overseas twice — the last time with the Maine Army Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion — and his wife and son always have been there to support him.
Now it’s his turn to be supportive.
His wife, Spc. Holly Parker, and son Spc. Andrew Parker are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan with the 133rd, and this time he’s staying home.
“Like any husband and parent I am of course nervous — it’s a deployment,” Randal Parker said Monday by phone from his Waldo County home. “I’m also very proud of the fact they’re serving their country and get to do their jobs.”
His wife said military service runs in the family. Her father, Robert Hamilton of Portland, retired from the U.S. Army after 24 years, serving in Vietnam and as a recruiter stateside. Her husband’s father, Gerald Parker, who lives in the Unity area, served four years stateside during Vietnam.
“I’ve always wanted to serve my country as a soldier,” Holly Parker said. “My father was in the Army until I was about 8. He was a recruiter and he kind of recruited me at a young age.”
A few years ago, when the Army changed its age restrictions, upping the limit to 42, she learned she could fulfill her lifelong dream.
“I just realized it was still a possibility,” she said. “I had to lose 60 pounds to qualify,” which took about a year.
“She decided to do it at the age of 40,” her husband said with obvious pride in his voice.
She beat the cutoff by six weeks, because the age restriction since has returned to 35, he said.
While Holly Parker was filling out her enrollment paperwork, her son also decided to enlist.
“He joined in October and I joined in March ,” Holly Parker said.
The fact that both got assigned to the 133rd is pure happenstance, she said. The unit needed personnel in human resources, which is what she does, and with distributing supplies, which is what her son does. He’s now the supply clerk for the 133rd.
A total of 164 members of the state’s largest Guard unit are deploying, and their sendoff ceremony will be held Aug. 10 in Portland, Peter Rogers, spokesman for the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, said Monday. When the unit deployed to Iraq in 2004, four soldiers died and 43 were wounded.
The mother-son Maine Army National Guard duo will make history with their overseas departure.
“It’s the first one I know of,” Rogers said, adding there have been father-son deployments in the past, but never a mother-son deployment from Maine.
In addition to the 133rd, the Gardiner-based 1035th Engineering Detachment Survey and Design team, a 14-person unit of land surveyors, is also scheduled to deploy in the near future, Rogers said.
Randal Parker is now stationed with the Joint Forces Headquarters at Camp Keyes in Augusta and asked that his hometown and that of his son not be released to protect family members who will be left behind when their loved ones are away.
He said it’s ironic that the unit he last deployed overseas with is the unit to which his son and wife are now attached.
Andrew Parker, 24, a Mount View High School graduate, said the military has always been good to his family and he wanted to continue the tradition when he started a family with his high school sweetheart, whom he since has married.
“[The military has] taken care of us,” he said. “I wanted to make sure her and I were taken care of.”
The youngest Parker said he is extremely proud of his mom and that they both realize they are deploying to do an important job.
“She’s a soldier first and my mother second,” he said.
Both Holly Parker and Andrew Parker said they were excited about serving overseas because that is what they train for.
“We’re slowing down on deployments. It may be our only opportunity to do what we’re trained to do,” Holly Parker said.
The 133rd’s mission and station is in flux at the moment because of the scaling back of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Rogers said. He said he’s not sure if both Parkers will serve at the same base.
“This mission, in particular, you just don’t know until you get there because of the scale back,” Rogers said.
Holly Parker said she may be a soldier now, but she’s still a mother and has her worries. What reassures her is the extensive training the unit has done to prepare.
“He’s been well trained and he’s competent in his abilities,” she said. “He’s going to go over there and do the same thing as the others in the unit — do what needs to be done.”