BANGOR — A Maine Army National Guard mountain infantry company, weary but intact after battling insurgents for nine months along the often-treacherous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, made it home for Christmas.

“It’s a great time to be coming home,” said Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn, commander of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Mountain Infantry, shortly after touching down aboard a charter flight with 65 of his men early Thursday afternoon at Bangor International Airport. “We have a lot of reasons to be thankful.”

The combat infantry company’s 148 soldiers, many of whom had returned to Maine in recent days on earlier flights from their mobilization station at Fort Atterbury in Indiana, made it through their deployment to Combat Outpost Dand wa Patan, in the shadow of Pakistan’s tribal regions, without losing a single soldier.

And while “four or five” of his men were wounded in action during Bravo Company’s daily missions throughout Afghanistan’s Paktya Province, Bosse said, none of the injuries was life-threatening.

“We were very, very, very lucky,” said 1st Lt. Eric Cain of Randolph, who led Bravo Company’s four-man intelligence unit. “There were some things that we did that helped us, and there were some things the insurgents did that helped us.”

Thursday’s homecoming at the Armed Forces Reserve Center drew more than 200 relatives, friends and Maine Guard comrades — many bearing signs proclaiming their pride in this or that soldier and their gratitude that everyone made it home.

“Sometimes you wouldn’t hear from him for a long time — and everyone would get stressed out,” said Jessica Hisler, 15, daughter of Spc. Gaylen Hisler of Somerville.

Standing nearby, Hisler’s wife, Tricia, said she spent much of her husband’s deployment on an informational see-saw — worried about what he might be doing, but at the same time afraid to hear the details.

“When he came home on leave, he kept talking about the missions and things they were doing. And I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t need to know,’” Tricia said. “I did but I didn’t.”

Bravo Company’s mission was twofold: mentor and coordinate with Afghan forces at COP Dand wa Patan and other military installations in the region, and disrupt insurgents traveling through Bravo’s mountainous “battle area” on their way to and from nearby Pakistan.

“It was a tough mission,” said 1st Sgt. John Brooks of Glenburn. “But it went well — and these guys’ hard work made it go well.”

Surrounding Brooks as he spoke were his three beaming daughters — Madelyn, 11, Elise, 5, and Audra, 2. Brooks’ wife, Aimee, said the girls spent much of the past year consoling themselves with “Flat Daddy” — a life-size cutout of their father, compliments of the Maine Guard’s family support program.

Noting that this was the third time she had welcomed her husband home — he served before in Afghanistan and in Iraq — Aimee summed up her feelings in just two words.

“Just relieved,” she said with a smile.

And Bravo Company’s senior enlisted man?

“I’m just ready to go home and be called Dad,” Brooks said.

Not all of the soldiers had a spouse waiting.

Cain, the intelligence officer, is married to 1st Lt. Jasmine Cain, who’s now stationed in Kabul with the Maine Guard’s 1136th Transportation Company. That unit, now the only one from Maine that’s deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, is scheduled to come home in early March.

Three weeks ago, Kate Tuck, Jasmine Cain’s stepmother, went outside her home in Bangor to pick up her newspaper and found a package addressed to her sitting on the porch.

“I didn’t know what it was,” she said. “But then I opened it up and started to cry.”

It was a large plastic sign that Jasmine had made in Kabul. Below a picture of the young couple, both in uniform, were the words: “Eric, You are my heart, my husband, my hero. Love, Jasmine.”

“I’ve had three e-mails from her: ‘Don’t forget the banner!’” Tuck said. “Not that I ever would.”

The sign was the first thing Cain saw as he came through the door and fell in for Bravo Company’s final formation.

“I couldn’t miss it,” he said. “I couldn’t miss it.”

Adding a welcome holiday touch to the homecoming were Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, who helped pass the time before Bravo Company’s arrival by shaking children’s hands and congratulating them on their perseverance through an anything-but-easy year.

Santa explained that he was the guest of honor a year ago at a family Christmas party for Bravo Company just before it shipped out to Fort Atterbury for pre-deployment training. When they heard the unit was on its way home, he said, he and Mrs. Claus knew it was once again their turn to mobilize.

“I saw these guys go,” Santa said, eyes twinkling, “and I’ve seen ’em come home.”

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]


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