It is hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since our Maine Army National Guard unit, the 1136th Transportation Company, was activated in support of Operation Iraqi/Enduring Freedom, along with numerous active and Reserve component units all across the country.

Sgt. Cory Goodell of Phippsburg hugs his wife, Bonnie, and 8-year-old daughter, Katie, before departing from the Sanford Armory on Feb. 25, 2003. Goodell is with the 1136th Transportation Company of the Maine Army National Guard, which left Maine for Fort Dix, N.J., and ended up deploying to Iraq. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer, File

The 1136th TC Detachment No. 1, or 3rd Platoon, was located at the Sanford Armory. We Mainers, and the entire nation, were about to embark on a journey – truly a life-changing one – with an unknown outcome. We, in that moment, didn’t know exactly where we were going, how long we’d be gone or when we would return. As soldiers, we accepted these orders. We had, after all, knowingly and willfully sworn our oath of enlistment and anticipated military action because of the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001. So, while there were some unknowns that raised significant concern, other unknowns provided a tremendous sense of pride and belonging.

This is where the people of Sanford and Springvale shone.

As we prepared for our deployment, many of you supported us directly and indirectly right at the armory. We dug out our vehicles because they had been buried from a snowstorm just days before our activation orders. Passers-by honked in support of our obvious efforts. Although we had a snow removal contract, it seemed as though our contractor and others helped beyond any expectation. Our soldiers often ate and slept at the armory, yet it seemed that extra food was somehow often around. Not only did the community tolerate our hectic pace to get things done, but there was a sense of genuine care pervading everything we did, too.

As we boarded buses destined for our launch point, Fort Dix, New Jersey, the community stood by us unflinchingly on a cold February day, waving flags and cheering us as we rode out of town. No one could have guessed at that time just how long our forces would be in theater. When we returned after more than a year away from this community, family and friends, they embraced our return and even provided us with flowers so our loved ones would receive something when we disembarked the bus. I had the pleasure of standing next to one of our soldiers who had a very different experience when he returned home from his tour during Vietnam. I witnessed the happiness he had reconciling finally being welcomed home rather than being spat upon at a large airport.

Clearly, society has come to understand that soldiers, all warriors, do not set the policy for war — they only implement it. There is a saying that many of you, I’m sure, have either seen or know for yourselves: “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” These are the moments I will remember forever.

So, 20 years have gone by, and along the way, life has happened. As a nation, we’ve endured the longest war in modern times. We’ve all felt the sting of the loss of loved ones and the great joy of new arrivals in our lives. There is a new unit, the 262nd Engineers, at the Sanford Armory, which is now a contemporary military training facility. The world experienced a modern-day pandemic, and tax season is now upon us.

Having said all of that, one thing has not changed: That is how I remember the love and support the people showed us, members of the 3rd Platoon, 1136th Transportation Company MEANG, affectionately known as the “3rd Herd.”

It’s been a pleasure and honor to serve Maine and the country. On behalf of the 3rd Herd soldiers, thank you.

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