It played out like so many homecomings had before it: Soldiers from the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion, looking a little dazed and a lot done with life in a war zone, filed onto the Augusta Armory stage early Tuesday afternoon while their spouses, kids and other well-wishers screamed in sheer delight.

Then, just when it seemed both sides could wait no longer, Lt. Col. Dean Preston, the battalion commander, formally dismissed his 150-plus troops into a scrum of bear hugs, rapturous kisses, joyful tears and utter disbelief that this day, so long coming, had finally arrived.

The 133rd, which left many a footprint in both Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, is home again. And just as significantly, all of Maine can breathe a sigh of relief that we no longer have any major military units in harm’s way.

“That’s exciting,” said Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, who commanded a company for the 133rd in Iraq and now serves as spokesman for the Maine Guard. “This is the first time in a long time that there hasn’t been somebody there, somebody on the way home or somebody just about to leave.”

Much has changed since the 133rd first deployed to Mosul, Iraq, in early 2004, intent on winning the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The battalion paid dearly for its efforts, losing three soldiers to hostile fire even as it built roads and bridges, schools and health clinics throughout the relatively friendly Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

The good news is that what is now fast becoming an independent Kurdistan is still among the safer places in Iraq, meaning much of what the 133rd left behind is in all likelihood still there.

The bad news is that the rest of Iraq is plummeting into civil war, erasing any illusion that U.S. military efforts there gave root to a peaceful and enduring democracy.

Was it worth it? According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll, 71 percent of Americans now think not.

Then there’s Afghanistan, where the 133rd just spent nine months tearing down 1,650 structures, recycling 38 miles of electrical wire, carting off 5,900 truckloads of debris, hauling 364,000 cubic yards of gravel, knocking down two miles of military barriers. … As wars go up, so must they eventually come down.

Yet even as these citizen soldiers from Maine file Bagram Air Field and myriad other military installations under “been there, done that,” the news out of Afghanistan is anything but encouraging: Turmoil continues over the legitimacy of the recent presidential election. At the same time, the Taliban has launched a coordinated offensive across Helmund Province, even before the last vestiges of the U.S. military depart the longest war in American history.

Put more simply, as Iraq goes, so soon may go Afghanistan.

Having embedded with the Maine Guard five times over the past 10 years, I’ve seen the optimism and sense of righteousness that propelled the United States into two wars give way to a palpable weariness. Nation builders no longer, the vast majority of soldiers I’ve had the pleasure to meet now define success, first and foremost, as simply getting home alive.

On that note, this was a successful deployment for the 133rd. Despite the occasional rocket attacks on Bagram Air Field, the cat-and-mouse game between heavily armored convoys and insurgents with an endless supply of roadside bombs, every man and woman in the 133rd made it back safely.

“Awesome,” replied battalion commander Preston when asked how that feels. “It feels great.”

Of course, as Yogi Berra once said, it ain’t over until it’s over.

Even now, men and women from the Maine Air National Guard continue to rotate in and out of the Middle East on refueling missions and other assignments.

At the same time, the Maine Army National Guard’s 262nd Engineer Company remains on alert for deployment to Afghanistan in December, part of a 9,800-soldier residual force now scheduled to support Afghan troops through the end of 2015.

Time will tell whether those Mainers do, in fact, deploy. If recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us anything, it’s that a lot can change over the course of five or six months.

Closer to home, meanwhile, the fallout continues from last month’s revelation that the Maine Guard’s adjutant general, Brig. Gen. James Campbell, was quietly planning to swap the 133rd with another state for a less versatile infantry unit. That plan appears to have evaporated under Gov. Paul LePage’s recent claim that he wants to grow the Maine Guard, not shrink it. (Good luck with that one, Governor.)

But all of that – the military force restructuring, the future of Afghanistan, the future of the Maine Guard – can wait.

What really mattered on Tuesday was that as fast as the Augusta Armory filled up, it emptied even faster.

The last Maine unit to put boots on the ground in a combat theater is home again, and to fully appreciate why that’s such good news, you needed only watch all those soldiers, many with young children and adoring spouses in tow, hoist their duffel bags one last time and head for the family minivans.

“This is always good,” said Preston, the weight of command finally off his shoulders, as bedlam reigned all around him. “This is what it’s all about.”

So what’s the battalion commander’s plans for the 4th of July and the Maine summer just behind it?

“I’m off,” Preston replied with a broad smile. “I’m going to relax.”

As can we all.