SKOWHEGAN — Skowhegan Police Chief Michael Emmons, 54, said jokes about his age were common during his recent eight-month military tour in the deserts of Southwest Asia.
Emmons, a senior master sergeant with the Bangor-based 101st Security Forces Squadron of the Maine Air National Guard , returned to work at the Police Department Dec. 3.
“As far as my group that I was with during training, I was the oldest one — always the oldest one in the class,” he said in a recent interview. “I took a little bit of ribbing; never bothered me a bit.”
Emmons, who started with the Air National Guard in 1977, was called to active duty in March and arrived in-country a month later. He was released from active duty Saturday, but will remain a member of the National Guard.
Emmons said this was his second deployment overseas.
He said he was activated with the Air National Guard after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He said during his 18 months of active duty that time, his flight crew traveled in and out of the United States repeatedly, transporting al-Qaida and Taliban detainees from their country of origin to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.
Because of security concerns, he said, he is not permitted to say exactly where he was stationed this year. Southwest Asia covers a vast region that includes Middle Eastern countries, along with Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan.
Emmons said he lost 20 pounds during his recent deployment because daytime desert temperatures often reached 135 degrees. It cooled down into the 90s overnight, but that’s also when the humidity settled in, he said.
“It was extremely hot,” he said. “It was during the hottest part of the year. The majority of the time, it was no less than 118 degrees during the day. I don’t think I would ever, for as long as I was there, ever get used to that kind of heat. It was miserable after awhile. All you do is sweat.”
Emmons said he welcomed the weather in recent weeks when temperatures in central Maine dipped into the single digits overnight.
He lives in Skowhegan with his wife, Rhonda. They have two grown children and three grandchildren.
During his recent tour of duty, Emmons was flight chief, then flight commander, responsible for 160 airman in his unit. He said his group provided air base defense for allied forces in the region but was not involved in direct combat operations.
“It was a very important job,” he said. “It’s all part of the big picture of the war on terrorism. Even though it was a long time away from my family, I do not regret it. When they asked me to go, I wasn’t going to try to get out of it. It was my turn to do a deployment.”
Emmons said his service in Southwest Asia will make him a better Skowhegan police chief, a job he took in 2007 after working for the Wiscasset, Augusta and Gardiner police departments.
“I gained a lot of supervisory experience with a lot of different personalities, a lot of job knowledge,” he said. “Just the experience of being in such a large agency, having so many people under your command that you are responsible for. You’re responsible for everything they do or don’t do in the course of your shifts.”
Emmons said he was moved by the Skowhegan’s reaction to his return home.
“I was honored to receive the reception and the welcome,” he said. “There’s banners up in town; there’s billboards up welcoming me back. Skowhegan really supported me. It feels good to be back.”
Doug Harlow — 612-2367