AUGUSTA — The three girls, Ana, Audrey and Mia, wore sundresses to combat the 85-degree heat. The boys, Adam Jr. and Mike, wore camouflage shorts.

All five clung to their dad as if they hadn’t seen him since August, because, well, they hadn’t seen him since August.

Capt. Adam Cote just smiled.

“I managed to miss all their birthdays while I was gone,” said the Sanford native, who brought home with him a Bronze Star Medal. “I’ve got some making up to do.”

Cote and his fellow soldiers with the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion returned to their loved ones Tuesday after spending the last 11 months away, nine of them in Afghanistan.

Hundreds of wives, husbands, parents, grandparents, children and others packed a sweltering Augusta Armory early Tuesday afternoon and eagerly awaited the arrival of the unit. When the caravan of buses arrived and the soldiers filed in, one by one, the crowd erupted in sustained applause. After the soldiers were officially dismissed, there was a mad scramble, followed by hugs, kisses and tears.

Amanda Breton of Sabattus, who completed her first deployment with the 133rd, was greeted by more than a dozen family members, all wearing matching orange T-shirts with “Breton” and “133” screen-printed on the back.

Her husband, Jason Breton, said the last year has been a challenge.

“I got to see the other side of this I guess,” said Breton, who also is a soldier.

In fact, Jason Breton is set to deploy later this year with another Maine-based company, the 262nd Engineers out of Westbrook.

In another corner of the armory, Amber Bohn gently rocked a stroller that held her 2½-month old daughter, Charlotte. She found out she was pregnant the day after her husband, Brian Bohn, deployed. He would meet his daughter for the first time Tuesday.

When the Bohn family returns home to Saco, there will be another surprise for Brian – a new house.

“I picked it out by myself,” Amber said. “I hope he likes it.”

Tony Cincotta, a Korean War and Vietnam War veteran, drove from Berwick to greet his grandson, Seth Michael Adams, 19, the youngest member of the 133rd. Like many veterans of his generation, Cincotta said he’s glad that the current generation of soldiers receives the send-offs and homecomings they deserve.

“I can remember when I came home from Vietnam, I was warned not to wear my uniform,” he said.

Adams said the homecoming meant a lot to him.

“You couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said.

The 133rd, made up of combat engineers, was among the units responsible for winding down America’s longest war, dismantling forward operating bases and transporting heavy equipment in the sprawling, war-torn nation of Afghanistan.

The battalion previously deployed to Iraq in 2004-05 during the height of the war.

During that mission, the 133rd lost two of its soldiers – Sgt. Thomas Dostie of Somerville and Staff Sgt. Lynn Poulin of Freedom – when a suicide bomber disguised as an Iraqi soldier infiltrated a mess hall at an operating base in Mosul.

Prior to that, members of the 133rd were deployed to Bosnia and Herzgovenia in 1997.

In between, soldiers have assisted in natural disasters statewide, including after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Comprised of more than 500 soldiers in all, the 133rd garnered headlines in April when the Portland Press Herald reported on a plan by high-level Guard officials to trade the battalion to Pennsylvania in exchange for an infantry unit.

The trade would occur by about 2015, and would be part of a larger restructuring of the entire U.S. military.

Following publication of the story about the plan to swap the battalion, former Maine Guard leaders came out against any move of the engineers, and for weeks, state and Guard officials differed on what would come next.

Gov. Paul LePage, the commander-in-chief of the Maine National Guard, repeatedly has insisted that no decision had been made, nor would one be made for years, and in a news conference in May said the final authority to approve any military restructuring rests with Congress. However, he and Brig. Gen. James Campbell, the Guard’s adjutant general, also have criticized the Obama administration for its top-to-bottom assessment of military forces that likely will result in reductions in troop strength across all branches.

Neither LePage nor Campbell has resolved conflicts between LePage’s statements that any transfer is still years away and an email that Campbell sent in April to Maine’s congressional delegation saying the move is set for 2015.

On Tuesday, no one was talking about that.

Samantha Campbell, whose husband John was deployed with the 133rd, said she has paid attention to the reports of the unit’s uncertain future but isn’t concerned.

“He’s home safe,” she said, while the couple’s 3-year-old son, Quinn, hugged her legs. “There are more important things.”

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell


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