JACKMAN – With two sons headed for two of the world’s hot spots, Sharon and Robert Lavigne are grateful for the time they can spend with their military family members.
U.S. Army Spc. Travis Taylor, 21, returned to Maine after eight months in Iraq, kissing American soil in Portland on Dec. 23, giving him about a month before his three-year re-enlistment takes him to Korea.
His younger brother, Nicholas Taylor, an 18-year-old Army private, also returned this month from basic training and advanced individualized training and will head out on Jan. 2 for Oklahoma, where he will fill a slot in airborne training. The family has been told that after airborne training, there is a 95 percent chance the younger Taylor will be deployed to Iraq.
Their mother is trying to remain optimistic that conditions will improve in both contentious areas.
“I’m hoping things quiet down in Iraq before Nick goes and that things don’t flare up in Korea,” Lavigne said from her home in Jackman.
The family celebrated Christmas together and held a party for Travis Taylor several days ago, drawing friends and family from around the state and out of state.
“We are very lucky to have them both home,” their mother said.
Nick Taylor was snowmobiling Monday afternoon, enjoying groomed trails that still remain in some parts of an otherwise unseasonably warm Maine.
Travis Taylor was home and spoke briefly about the hard lessons he has learned.
The elder son, a specialist with the 1st Battalion 17th Field Artillery battery, said he wasn’t completely prepared for deployment to the Middle East, where temperatures reached 150 degrees by day and dipped to much colder temperatures at night in northern Iraq, near the Iranian border.
There was no rain to cool things down, and sweat-drenched uniforms had to be changed several times a day.
Civilians could be friendly, offering an outpouring of support. They could also hide deadly danger. It was difficult to tell the difference, he acknowledged. Travis helped retrain the Kurds, long a target of Saddam Hussein’s brutality, and found them willing students. Some of them loved the American presence in Iraq and cheered the overthrow of the dictator.
Although he saw little combat himself, there was the constant danger of insurgents firing on convoys or supply lines that serviced the battery, and sometimes bombs would go off along the road.
Part of Travis’ duties included transporting unexploded missiles to detonation sites. His actions earned him two Army citations.
Travis spoke reluctantly about some of the more trying times in Iraq. In one incident, he was to be the gunner for the lead vehicle on a convoy, but he was delayed and someone else took his spot. That vehicle was struck by a bomb planted alongside the road, killing the gunner. It could have – and should have – been him, he said.
By re-enlisting, Travis was allowed to return to the United States in December, several months before his unit is supposed to return. Although he is glad to be with family, he said, deep down, he would rather have returned from his tour of Iraq with his unit.
“That way, I’d know they came back safe,” he said.