BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — SALEM — A National Guardsman from Marblehead was honored Saturday during the anniversary of the First Muster on Salem Common.
Sgt. Paul Atkinson was one of 700 Massachusetts National Guardsmen from the 182nd Infantry Regiment deployed to Afghanistan more than a year ago.
Atkinson, a corrections officer at Middleton Jail, was in charge of maintenance at Camp Phoenix and arranged for the base to donate hundreds of surplus mattresses and bed frames to an orphanage with 700 children. Michael and Janet Brings of Calling All Patriots Troop Support in Marblehead then arranged to send 300 salvaged sheets and blankets to the orphanage.
Brings and others brought Atkinson’s work to the attention of Congressman John Tierney, and in September, Tierney read a statement into the Congressional Record. Tierney acknowledged that work at Saturday’s muster, the first since Salem was designated the birthplace of the National Guard by Congress and the president.
“You hear about everything else going on over there,” Michael Brings said, “and they don’t get medals for the humanity thing.”
“What you are really honoring is the philanthropy and humanitarian assistance by the 182nd Infantry Regiment,” said Lt. Col. Tom Stewart, Atkinson’s commanding officer in Afghanistan, who coordinated Saturday’s muster. The historic 182nd traces its lineage back more than 375 years. Its deployment in Afghanistan lasted from June 2011 to March 2012.
A group called Friends and Family of the 182nd, Stewart said, also arranged for medical supplies and care packages for Afghan families. Stewart recalls a scene in 10-degree weather where children in “flip-flops” stood in a foot and a half of snow waiting for donations of warm clothing.
“I’ve seen some of the coldest children I’ve ever seen in my life,” Stewart said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.