Saturday, December 7, 2013
MONMOUTH — Scott Lewis has gone off to war. Again. He'll be gone the better part of a year, which is a long time by any measure, but it seems especially glacial when counted in missed proms, morning chats and wrestling matches with Dad.
Maine Army National Guard Maj. Scott Lewis gathers his thoughts Monday at the 133rd Engineer Battalion's headquarters in Gardiner. The 45-year-old Monmouth resident will be leaving his wife and children behind to supervise hundreds of men and woman in Afghanistan for a nearly year-long deployment.
Staff photo by Andy Molloy
Maine Army National Guard Maj. Scott Lewis speaks with his wife, Lynn, as their children, Nathan, 6, and Kimberlee, 16, play in the family's Monmouth home on today. Scott Lewis is deploying to Afghanistan to serve as the executive officer for the 133rd Engineer Battalion.
Staff photo by Andy Molloy
In just a few weeks, Lewis, a major in the Maine Army National Guard who has spent most of the past 14 years with the 133rd Engineer Battalion, will be overseeing hundreds of men and woman in Afghanistan; but last week Lewis was squeezing in the last few days of overseeing his family and making sure they were ready to go it alone.
"The last thing on my list was cleaning the chimney," Lewis said last week, just days before Saturday's send-off ceremony in Portland. "You can't prepare for surprises, but you can prepare against absolute chaos."
Lewis, 45, is one of about 200 men and women from the 133rd Engineer Battalion and 1035th Engineer Detachment who will leave this week for six weeks of mobilization training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi.
In October they'll head to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. They'll spend about nine months in the country retrofitting military sites for alternative uses by the Afghans or close them all together. The work is anticipation of the end of Operation Enduring Freedom. President Barack Obama's administration has said it hopes to have between zero and 15,000 troops in Afghanistan by January 2015.
"It's all about reducing the footprint," Lewis said, That's a big job, considering the war has been ongoing for about 12 years.
Lewis will serve as the executive officer of a battalion that within six months will include 700 people from Maine as well as Alabama, Mississippi and New Jersey.
Lewis was a company executive officer when the 133rd deployed to Mosul, Iraq, from February 2004 to March 2005. About one-third of the soldiers who deployed to Iraq remain with the 133rd, Lewis said.
"That's one thing that's strong about the National Guard that the active duty doesn't have," Lewis said. "When you're in the active duty, you get moved around. We have relationships that we've developed over 10 or 15 years. When we go, it's almost like the family's going."
That connection extends to Lewis' civilian family, which includes his wife, Lynn Lewis, and their two children, 16-year-old Kimberlee and 6-year-old Nathan, who will remain behind. The families left behind help support each other, Lynn Lewis said.
"The spouses that I made really strong relationships with the last time they were gone are going to be the same," Lynn Lewis said. "It's family."
Some of that support is formalized through the Family Readiness Group, which meets once a month to offer support to anyone who is related to or cares about a deployed soldier. The Guard also has a network of area tradesmen and other skilled volunteers who are ready to help families in times of an emergency, such as a broken boiler or a leaky roof.
Soldiers in the 133rd have known for about a year that they would deploy to Afghanistan this summer, which gave the unit and their families time to prepare for as many scenarios as possible. In addition to the newly swept chimney, the family has seen to a number of other preparations, such as stacking a winter's worth of firewood. Lynn Lewis, who mirrors her husband's determination and preparedness, got a tutorial on changing the shear pin of the snow blower.
"I have full confidence of my ability, and the kids' ability, to handle everything here at home," Lynn said. "If something comes up, if I can't personally do it, I know who to call."
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