By Katie Lovett
---- — NEWBURYPORT – Beth Raucci, the principal of the Nock Middle School, got an e-mail two weeks ago from Kimberly Potts with a special request.
Potts is the mother of 2001 Amesbury High School graduate Justin Potts, a National Guardsman with the the 182nd Engineer Company. After a 10-month deployment in Afghanistan through Operation Enduring Freedom, the soldiers were returning home, Potts wrote to Raucci. Would the principal consider having the middle school students make and hang signs welcoming them home?
Raucci happily agreed and notified eighth-grade social studies teacher Jennifer Groskin of the request, as much of that curriculum focuses on what it means to be an American citizen. The eighth-graders created about 25 welcome signs and hung them on the fence outside the Armory on Low Street yesterday in anticipation of today’s noontime arrival of the soldiers.
Potts also has a nephew in the fourth grade, and he and his classmates at the Molin School also made signs.
“I was really thrilled she thought to ask us,” Raucci said. “It’s about giving thanks. I just really thought it captured the spirit of giving thanks and appreciating service.”
The approximately 84 soldiers of the the 182nd Engineer Company arrived at Biggs Army Airfield in Texas on Nov. 14 and began the mandated demobilization process.
This is the second deployment for the unit. In 2007, Potts also returned home on Thanksgiving Day from a 15-month deployment to Kosovo with the 101st Engineer Battalion as a combat engineer.
In the Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, the 182nd provided route clearance operations. According to company commander, Capt. Michael R. Bouchard, they cleared 35,000 kilometers, encountered 96 improvised explosive device events, and cleared 70 percent of IEDs. Of the 84 soldiers in the company, 55 received combat action badges and two combat medic badges.
“It was really tough the first few months of deployment. We were hitting a lot of IEDs because of the terrain we were encountering. We used our equipment to its full potential, and we were able to get everyone home safe,” Spc. Michael G. Demers, a combat engineer assigned to the 182nd Engineer Company, said in a press release.
“The line platoons did fantastic jobs covering the routes. As National Guardsmen, we never get a chance to work as full-time soldiers. This is the only chance we get to deploy for a year at a time. It was good to see many of the young soldiers and even leaders grow during the deployment,” said combat engineer Staff Sgt. Jason B. Tierney in a press release.
Demers, who is on his second deployment, said, “We built relationships with the people of Afghanistan everywhere we went. It was clear by the time we left. Kids were wearing Red Sox hats. It was good.”