BANGOR, Maine — When the 488th Military Police Company arrived Saturday afternoon to the cheers of loved ones left home for a year while they served in Afghanistan, another family — one dressed in blue — stood in the back quietly waiting.
Members of the Augusta Police Department, as well as the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Department, Bangor Police Department, Bangor Fire Department, Maine State Police and others were on hand to welcome the 122 military police officers home.
“We’re just up here showing our support,” Augusta police Officer Brad Chase said just before the soldiers, who are based in Waterville but have a detachment in Houlton, arrived at Bangor International Airport and were taxied over to the Army Aviation Support Facility on the National Guard base.
Capt. Eric Dos Santos, commander of the 488th, is an officer with the Augusta Police Department, and several others in the capital’s force have military careers, said Chase, who himself deployed in 2010 to Kirkuk, Iraq, as a sergeant with the 101st Security Forces Squadron.
“We know what it’s like to be away and how good it feels to be home,” Chase said.
Dos Santos’ parents, Norman and Rolanda Dos Santos, his children, Matthew, 7, Katherine, 3, sister, Sarah Dos Santos, and his fiancée Destinee Ryder and her daughter Jenasis Goodrich, all of Augusta, were all on hand to welcome him home.
“It’s been hard,” Norman Dos Santos said of his son’s deployment. “We worried about him all the time and we worried for his family. We’re also very proud of him.”
Ryder said she was able to keep in pretty good contact with Dos Santos thanks to today’s technology, but she also used the post office.
“Skype and phone and packages — lots and lots of care packages,” is how the couple kept in touch, she said. “We sent everything.”
Cookies were in many of the oversea-bound packages to the MP unit commander.
“She’s the cookie momma,” Ryder said pointing at his mother, Rolanda.
As Ryder spoke, she got a text message from Dos Santos.
“He’s here,” she said at about 3:19 p.m., her voice rising slightly with excitement. “I think you just lost us.”
The group grabbed their signs and cameras and started to make their way toward the front of the crowd at the Army Aviation Support Facility. Rolanda Dos Santos later said the military and her son’s job have both been very supportive to her family.
When the plane arrived at the hangar, the soldiers were filtered into a side hangar so Gov. Paul LePage could personally welcome them home.
“I just said, ‘Welcome home. Let’s go see your families,’” the governor said shortly after the soldiers were released to their family and friends. “They don’t want to see me. They want to see their families.”
As the soldiers disembarked from the plane that carried them to Maine, 2-year-old Karter Bonenfant of Greene, and aunt Erika Emmons of Auburn ducked down to look under a slightly raised hangar door for a glimpse of his uncle and her brother, Spc. Eric Emmons of Auburn.
Several others joined them, some with cameras, in hopes of getting the first look. Across the room, the specialist’s stepmother, Karen Emmons, had found a chair and was perched atop it.
“I’m sorry, but I want to be able to see him march in,” she said, apologizing to nobody in particular, with her husband and the deployed soldier’s father, Larry Emmons, standing beside her.
After the welcome home cheers died down, the tears of joy and relief started to flow as a barrage of hugs commenced. As the families and friends started to disperse, Augusta police patrol Sgt. Christian Behr, who is a 25-year Maine Army National Guard veteran who retired last year; Augusta police Sgt. Richard Dubois, who deployed in Desert Storm with the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines of Topsham in 1990, and Chase made their way to the front to see Dos Santos.
Dos Santos, 31, deployed with Behr as members of the 286th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in 2008. Behr said he was very proud when his co-worker was named commander of the military police unit.
“He had no illusions,” Behr said of Dos Santos taking command of the 488th.
The unit was sent to Bagram Airfield, one of the largest U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, and its mission was to conduct police, detainment and stability operations to enhance security for coalition and Afghanistan forces, Peter Rogers, spokesman for the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, said while standing next to a mingling LePage.
“They did a really good job,” Rogers said of the unit, who also operated an onbase retention facility.
“They are the jacks of all trades when it comes to security and law enforcement,” Behr said.
In addition to running the military prison, and conducting military police missions, the unit’s other job was to “mentor our Afghan partners to help them build a solemn future,” Dos Santos said of his unit, which is nicknamed the “Guardians.”
“I am extremely proud of them and the work they did,” he said of the men and woman he commanded. “I get the credit, but it’s definitely [based on] what the soldiers and junior leadership did.”
He also had a message for his co-worker at Augusta PD.
“Keep up the good work,” Dos Santos said, with a smile spread across his face, his daughter in his arms and his son at his feet. “I’m not coming back to work right now. I’ll be having a summer break.”