- Associated Press - Friday, June 27, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The first wave of soldiers from the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion that deployed to Afghanistan almost a year ago is back home.

Family members and friends greeted the soldiers with hugs, flowers and tears at the Augusta Armory on Friday. The 13 soldiers are in the 1035th Survey and Design Team that provided engineer surveys to every company in the 133rd. They were among about 170 soldiers deployed in August.

The 133rd has been the subject of speculation in Maine that it could be moved to Pennsylvania and replaced with an infantry unit. Gov. Paul LePage has said he would fight any reduction to the guard presence in the state.

Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, a National Guard spokesman, said the guard is “preparing constantly for contingencies … At the moment, we’re not changing anything.”

At Friday’s ceremony, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Andrew J. Marquis, 38, of Boston, clutched 20-month-old daughter Sierra as his wife, Veronica, and family circled around them. Marquis said it was great to be home, but the news about the possibility of the battalion moving was unnerving.

“I don’t even want to think about that right now,” Marquis said. “For a lot of these guys that are mid-career, it’s a little scary.”

The soldiers are among 3,500 members of the Maine National Guard. They arrived at the armory by bus Friday. The rest of those deployed last August is expected to return to Maine next week.

Whitney Hayward, 24, of Machias, said she was awaiting the arrival of her boyfriend, 25-year-old Sgt. Richard Tuttle. She said she had talked to him via Facetime and iMessage nearly every day since deployment 10 months ago.

“You want your phone to ring, but at the same time when it rings, you get nervous,” she said.

Military officials said about 170 members of the 133rd returned last weekend to Ford Dix, New Jersey. The battalion has more than 500 soldiers total. Steinbuchel said the Maine guard battalion is scheduled to deploy a company in December.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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