This is the third in a three-part series on the Keene-based 220th Transportation Company.
On Thursday, friends and family members of soldiers in the Army Reserve unit gathered at the Lower Main Street base to send the group off to Fort Devens in Massachusetts.
The journey is first leg in a handful of training missions across the U.S., leading up to the unit’s deployment to Iraq later this year.
As they said goodbye to their loved ones Thursday, the soldiers transitioned from weekend warriors to full-time soldiers.
It began with the bark of an officer’s voice.
Suddenly, the men and women of the 220th Transportation Company were scrambling around the large, open hall at the Keene Army Reserve base, falling in line behind their platoon sergeants.
The sound of shuffling suede boots echoed off the concrete walls and floor. At the front of the group, two soldiers carried in the American flag and the unit’s red and gold flag.
This formation is the same way training begins every month for the 30 or so Army Reservists gathered at the base Thursday. It’s where the soldiers get their orders before going about weekend training missions.
Thursday afternoon, the unit began a different mission — one that will lead to Iraq by summer.
That night, after driving to Massachusetts in a convoy of military vehicles, the group would meet up with the rest of the unit to settle into its new, temporary home at Fort Devens in Massachusetts. Some soldiers were flying in from across the country, and the unit’s Barre, Vt.-based Third Platoon made a separate convoy to Massachusetts.
But first, the soldiers in Keene gathered with dozens of family members, friends and community leaders for a ceremony in the cavernous hall.
Signs of their split lives — family and military — filled the room.
A large olive-green duffel bag stuffed so tightly the seams stretched, leaned against the back wall. Nearby sat an empty stroller filled with blankets and children’s toys, a coffee cup perched in the cup holder. A young soldier and his new wife beamed from a recent photo hanging across the room.
Standing in formation, the soldiers bowed their heads when Keene Mayor Philip Dale Pregent asked for a moment of silence to honor 19-year-old Spc. Marc P. Decoteau, a Waterville Valley soldier killed in Afghanistan last week.
It was a reminder of the perils of war.
The unit’s commander, Capt. Adam D. Ziegner of Newfane, Vt., told the soldiers to take care of each other over the next year and thanked their families for standing behind the unit.
“You are our support,” he said. “We’re going to depend on you to hold down the fort while we’re gone.”
After the ceremony, most soldiers hurried off to prepare for the trip to Massachusetts. A few hung back to say goodbye to their families.
Pvt. Keith Corriveau of Antrim stood to one side of the room with his mother, Ruth Tucci of Warner, and his girlfriend, Brittney Johnson of Antrim.
Corriveau joined the 220th two years ago and this will be his first deployment.
The 21-year-old said he’s ready to go, but his mom is not so confident.
“I don’t want him to go,” Tucci said, biting back tears.
Corriveau and Johnson have talked about how they’ll stay in touch during training and deployment and the pressure that time and distance might put on their relationship.
“We’ve got the kinks worked out,” Corriveau said.
Across the room, Pfc. Geoffrey Boffito of Concord scooped up his 2-year-old son, Eligia, decked out in desert camouflage to match his dad.
When Boffito went to Iraq with the 220th in 2005, he was 19 years old. He’d married his wife, Heidi, a week before and was leaving her home with their 11-month-old son, Jack.
Jack, now 5, is older brother to Eligia and 14-month-old Noah.
The Boffitos tried to prepare Jack for this deployment, but he didn’t really understand until Wednesday night, Boffito said.
“He saw my bags and we were taking them out to the car and he said, ‘I’m gonna miss you,’ ” Boffito said.
Leaving his wife home with three sons also has Boffito feeling more anxious than last time.
“It’s just harder, missing everyone,” he said.
Heidi Boffito has already linked up with the unit’s Family Readiness Group, which supports soldiers’ families during deployment, and has close family nearby to help her out, she said.
Shelley Makarski of Somerville, Mass., also has a strategy for getting through the next year without her husband, Sgt. Robert Makarski.
The 37-year-old graphic designer plans to go to the gym often, and research and make a book of their families’ histories. She’ll get together with her sister-in-law to assemble packages to send to her husband wherever he’s stationed.
“It’ll be good for us and he’ll look forward to getting them and seeing what we’ve come up with,” she said.
She’s also signed up to be secretary of the unit’s Family Readiness Group.
“Basically, anything I can do to stay active and keep my mind on other things,” she said.
The two were introduced in 2005, shortly before Robert Makarski, 32, deployed with the 220th. Several months after getting back, he asked Shelley out on a date and they’ve been together ever since, she said.
When they were engaged last February, they knew another possible deployment loomed, but didn’t know how soon the unit would be leaving when they set their wedding date for October.
Since then, they’ve been spending as much time with each other as possible.
“We’ve just been enjoying time alone together, doing the things you take for granted,” she said, tearfully trailing off. “I don’t know how it’s going to go while he’s gone.”
They will stay in touch through e-mail and Skype, an online system that allows phone calls complete with video images.
And when Robert Makarski gets back, they plan to buy a house in New Hampshire, where Shelley was raised, she said.
But for now, they hug, and say goodbye.
Casey Farrar can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or email@example.com.