PORTLAND, Maine – The 178 members of the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion received a hero’s send-off Saturday before deploying to Afghanistan.
In three weeks they will arrive at Bagram, Afghanistan, to begin work downsizing and consolidating the bases there, as the United States prepares to withdraw its remaining military forces from the country.
Today however, they will spend with family, friends and state officials as their service is honored at the Portland Exposition Building. Gov. Paul LePage, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and Rep. Mike Michaud gave their thanks to the soldiers and wished them a safe return at the event, which was hosted by Portland Mayor Michael Brennan.
The unit will be deployed for a year, nine months of which will be spent in Afghanistan, according to National Guard spokesperson, Major Michael Steinbuchel. This will be their third overseas deployment and first deployment to Afghanistan.
“They’ve been training for this mission for a long time and are very motivated and ready to go,” said Steinbuchel after the ceremony.
The unit gathered outside Wishcamper Center on the University of Southern Maine campus and marched down Deering Avenue, as a motorcycle honor guard led them, and their families, to the Exposition Building. Once inside, they were greeted with applause, and tears from the awaiting audience.
The 133rd traces its lineage to the Civil War era 20th Maine Infantry Regiment, well known for action in the battle at Gettysburg in 1863. King spoke about the importance of Maine’s soldiers in defending the country throughout history, and the support they will receive from the state going forward.
“We’ve got politicians on the stage and we bicker sometimes, and we argue, and we have political differences, and I can tell you there is not a paper’s thickness of difference between us on the issue of support for you,” King said during his address to the unit. “We are with you, 100 percent.”
LePage, and his wife, Ann, used the opportunity to urge the soldiers to be safe while overseas. “I’m sad that you have to leave, and I’m sad that you have to leave your families and loved ones. But I want to assure you all, that Anne and I stand ready to help in any way we can,” LePage said.
One of those families is deploying together. Spc. Holly Parker and her son, Spc. Andrew Parker both serve with the unit. Both father and husband, Sgt. Randal Parker, who also is with the 133rd, is remaining behind this time around.
Kim Michaud, whose boyfriend, Sgt. Dane Boutin, is leaving for his first overseas deployment, said the year will be difficult, but they will manage as best as they can.
“We spent a lot of time talking about how we are going to communicate, but won’t quite know how it will work until he gets over there,” Michaud said.
The 133rd Engineer Battalion will leave early next week for Camp Shelby, Miss., for three weeks of preparation and will then deploy to Afghanistan for nine months.