AUGUSTA — Dozens of family members and supporters of 13 soldiers from the Maine Army National Guard welcomed the group home from Afghanistan on Friday, many of them waving miniature American flags or holding signs as the bus carrying the soldiers pulled into the Augusta State Armory parking lot.

“I’m shaking all over,” said Audrey Couture, 27, about 30 minutes before her husband, Sgt. Bryant Lorette, arrived at the armory. “Really, really anxious. I’m just so excited.”

Couture, from Wilton, said the two married before he left in August, but they’re planning a large wedding ceremony for October. She said they’ve been talking at least once a week, except when he had to go on missions off the base. Those were the were the hardest times to sleep, she said.

“How do you sleep when you’re hopefully waiting for a phone call?” Couture said.

When they were finally reunited, the two kept close to each other as their family members took turns greeting Lorette, 24, of Norridgewock. He said he and Couture will be spending as much time together as possible before they return to work.

Lorette said he was relieved to see Couture.

“I just wanted to come home, and I’m here now, so I’m all hers,” he said. “Whatever she wants to do, I’m going to do.”

“I can finally breathe again,” Couture said. “It doesn’t feel real yet, honestly, sorry.”

“Well, I’m here,” Lorette said, his right arm around her. “I’m not going anywhere.”

The small group of soldiers are in the 1035th Survey and Design Team, part of the Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion, which was deployed to Afghanistan last fall to dismantle the equipment and facilities that supported combat operations there. The battalion had been based in Gardiner, but now it will be based in Brunswick at a new readiness center. The Guard plans to sell the Gardiner armory, and the 133rd has been the subject of speculation 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.

The team provided engineer surveys of job sites and drawings for engineer missions to every company in the 133rd Engineer Battalion, according to the Maine Army National Guard.

The rest of the battalion, nearly 170 soldiers, is expected to return for a similar ceremony in the Augusta State Armory sometime early next week, said Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, spokesman for Maine Army National Guard. They’re stilling undergoing the demobilization process at Fort Dix near Trenton, N.J., he said.

Col. Jack Mosher, chief of staff for the Maine Army National Guard, said at the armory that the welcome-home ceremonies are an important part of the soldiers’ reintegration into their communities.

“They’re all here. They have all their fingers and toes,” Mosher said. “Each and everyone one of them is irreplaceable and a treasure.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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