2012-11-30 / Community

Reunited

South Portland firefighters gather to welcome soldier
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Jeff Lake, a veteran of the South Portland Fire Department, welcomes his niece Helaina Lake, of Livermore Falls, home from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. Helaina Lake has been recovering at the military hospital since June, when the U.S. Army Sergeant was injured in Afghanistan in a suicide bomb attack. (Jack Flagler photo) Jeff Lake, a veteran of the South Portland Fire Department, welcomes his niece Helaina Lake, of Livermore Falls, home from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. Helaina Lake has been recovering at the military hospital since June, when the U.S. Army Sergeant was injured in Afghanistan in a suicide bomb attack. (Jack Flagler photo) PORTLAND – When Helaina Lake came through the gate at the Portland International Jetport on Nov. 20, she entered to a round of applause and a crowd of reporters who asked the Livermore Falls native what she’s looking forward to most now that she’s back with her family.

“I hope to be enjoying the holidays like everyone else would, at home,” Lake answered.

It was a simple thought, but for Lake it meant a lot. The 24-year-old U.S. Army sergeant was badly injured in Afghanistan this June, when Taliban insurgents attacked the NATO base where she was stationed.


Kathrynn Lake welcomes her sister home at the Portland International Jetport. Asked what she’s looking forward to now that she’s back in Maine, Sgt. Lake answered, “Enjoying the holidays like anyone else would, at home.” (Jack Flagler photo) Kathrynn Lake welcomes her sister home at the Portland International Jetport. Asked what she’s looking forward to now that she’s back in Maine, Sgt. Lake answered, “Enjoying the holidays like anyone else would, at home.” (Jack Flagler photo) Her uncle, South Portland firefighter Jeff Lake, said his niece underwent more than a dozen surgeries after the attack for what he called an “unbelievable” number of injuries, which severely affected the right side of her body. After the attack, she was briefly put into a medically induced coma. She was treated at Rammstein Air Force Base in Germany, then transported to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., where she has since been recovering.

Sgt. Lake will return to Washington after the holidays, sometime in January, to continue her recovery. She is still in a wheelchair for now, but is getting closer to regaining her ability to walk. Her sister, Kathrynn Lake, 20, said her older sister has inspired her with the “drive to be better and better.”

Helaina Lake was escorted in a limousine on the 60-mile trip from the airport to her home in Livermore Falls by Maine State Police and area fire departments. On the road leading into the airport, a crowd of a few dozen gathered to welcome her home and give thanks for her service. A large American flag was suspended between the ladders on two fire trucks.

“It doesn’t seem real,” said Kathrynn Lake. “As we were pulling up to the airport, we’re seeing cars on cars. It’s overwhelming – the support. I’m so glad everybody’s here.”

Jeff Lake was similarily overcome by the showing at the airport. Before he went up the escalator to the gate to welcome his niece, he stopped to say a few words to the crowd of about 50 people composed of family, friends and firefighters from South Portland, Portland and Livermore Falls.

“If I don’t get another chance to say it, thank you,” Jeff Lake told the group.

About 15 to 20 members of the South Portland Fire Department joined Jeff Lake to welcome his niece home. He is a 15-year veteran of the department who Lt. Mike Mallory described as, “Somebody who is always there to lend a hand.”

Lt. Robb Couture of the South Portland Fire Department grew up just a few miles away from Jeff Lake. Couture lived in Jay, right next to Livermore Falls. He said the firefighters were happy to help out one of their own.

“He means a lot to us, the family means a lot to us and (Helaina) means a lot to us for what she did,” Couture said.

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