ORONO, Maine — Capt. Jeff Whitten, commander of the 286th Combat Sustainment Service Support Battalion while the unit served in Afghanistan during 2009 and 2010, said he has waited patiently for a chance to do what he did Friday.
Orono resident Terri Patton, 81, was named the unit’s “Maine Military Angel” during the Freedom Salute two years ago but wasn’t at the ceremony, and Whitten has held onto the framed U.S. flag, waiting for a chance to present it to her.
The flag was raised on Veterans Day 2009 at the base, located in the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar, where Whitten and 80 other Maine Army National Guard soldiers served.
“I tried to present this to her in May 2010,” the captain said.
Other attempts were made, but were never successful because Patton, originally from Orland, shied away from the spotlight.
“We were told, if we were to get this done, it would be on short notice,” Whitten said.
The call to assemble was made on Thursday, with the surprise set for dinner on Friday in the dining room at Dirigo Pines.
An unsuspecting Patton was led to a table by the windows flocked with men in military uniforms.
Whitten; his brother, Sgt. 1st Class Hal Whitten, also of the 286th; Senior Master Sgt. Joe Sousa of the 101st Air Refueling Wing; and U.S. Navy Ensign Howard Kroll each thanked her for her generous donations in support of military families through Operation Community Support.
Jeff Whitten, who towered over Patton, got down on one knee to talk to the octogenarian and give her a hug. When he later presented Patton with the framed flag he said it was an honor to meet and recognize her.
“It means a lot to me,” the captain said. “It means a lot to have that support, that we know our families are taken care of” while serving overseas in harm’s way.
Operation Community Support, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing services to military families, was able to provide military loved ones entry into the Bangor State Fair, Anah Shrine Circus, University of Maine sporting events and museums thanks to donations from people such as Patton, member Skip Chappelle said.
He and fellow Operation Community Support member Woody Carville of Orono were at the ceremony.
“She doesn’t just give to us, she helps others as well,” Chappelle said while handing over a flier that says she also gives to Eastern Maine Healthcare.
Patton thanked the men in uniform behind her with one sentence after accepting a plaque from the Department of Defense signed by Maj. Gen. John “Bill” Libby, recently retired adjutant general of the Maine National Guard.
“I’ve always said the best part of my life is being an American and having people like you protect us,” Maine’s Military Angel said.
When asked after the presentation about why she gives, Patton, who has no military background, quickly said, “Because I am an American.”