A dozen soldiers from the Maine Army National Guard's 133rd Engineer Battalion arrived home to their families today in Augusta. They are the first members of a survey and design team that's been serving in Afghanistan since last fall.
Many of the families of the soldiers had been waiting at the Armory for hours for the bus arriving from Fort Dix, N.J. Finally, a side door opened and the members of the 1035th Survey and Design Team marched in.
The soldiers lined up and were officially dismissed by Col. Jack Mosher, chief of staff for the Maine Army National Gaurd. Among those who were greeted by family members and friends was Sgt. Ryan Patrick Kelly, of Lewiston, who was reunited with his wife and son.
He says that after just over 300 days in Afghanistan, he was ready to come home and pursue a single goal: "Start my life over with my family... a new start," Kelly said.
Kelly's wife, Amanda, says her husband's deployment was not always easy for his family back home. She says she's grateful for the support of the extended family she has in all those associated with the guard.
"This is not my first time I've done this -- he's actually been deployed twice," Amanda Kelly said. "It's been a little difficult, but Army wives stick together, so we made it."
Kelly's unit conducted much of the survey work for several installations in Afghanistan, including Bagram Airfield, the largest Air Force construction project ever undertaken. He says his surroundings for the last year couldn't be more different than Maine.
"It's an experience that a lot of taxpayers in Maine and America do not get to see what's going on over there, but there's still a mission to be done and I'm proud to be part of that mission," Kelly said.
Major Mike Steinbuchel, the spokesman for the guard in Maine, says these soldiers have already undergone some preparation for returning to life in the states, and will continue to take part in a re-integration program.
"The Maine Army National Guard has something called the Yellow Ribbon Program," said Steinbuchel. "And the soldiers come back to us at the 30-, 60-, 90- and 120-day marks where we go through a series of reintegration steps. Some of those of steps include weekends with the families. They include just some time with the soldiers, a lot of administrative checks. And they they get back into the normal training cycle and they move forward from there."
Meanwhile, Steinbuchel says a larger contingent of soldiers from the 133rd Engineer Battalion will arrive next week. "We are still anticipating that the remainder of the battalion, which consists of the forward support company and the headquarters company, should be home early next week as they complete their duties and responsibilities at the demobilization station," Steinbuchel said.
The 133rd has garnered some attention in the news in recent months, around speculation that the unit could be relocated to Pennsylvania and replaced with an infantry unit. Maine Gov. Paul LePage has denied that there are any imminent plans for the battalion, which is scheduled to deploy a company once more in December.