Maj. Paul Tremblay has lived in North Carolina, Virginia and Afghanistan, but he still holds a soft spot in his heart for Townsend.

Despite moving from Townsend to Chelmsford his junior year of high school, Tremblay said some of the best friends he ever made were from North Middlesex Regional High School.

"I always considered Townsend to be my home," Tremblay said.

Now, as Operation Enduring Freedom draws to a close, Tremblay will be one of the last Marines to leave Afghanistan after transferring complete control to the Afghan National Army.

Tremblay enlisted in the Marines straight out of high school and is now approaching 18 years of service. After initially being deployed to Afghanistan in July 2011, he's spent the last seven months helping to advise the Afghan forces as they prepared to take over operations from the United States military.

On May 5, Tremblay and his fellow Marines left the Sangin Valley, and are overseeing operations in an advisory capacity from Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, while the Afghan National Army assumes control.

A big part of his job over the past seven months, he said, has been to help train a leader of the Afghan forces, Col. Abdul Hai Neshat.

"My job was to establish a rapport with the chief of staff. We would meet daily, attend meetings and become friendly to the point where we'd share meals, watch TV, read the same books and have book discussions, all in an effort for me to be a mentor to him to share my experience and my perspective, and ultimately, to be that confidant as he was increasing his confidence and effectiveness as chief of staff for the Afghan brigade," Tremblay said.

Through their interactions, he said, he learned an immense amount about both the Afghan culture and leadership.

"I had the opportunity on this deployment to learn far more than I taught. He was a wealth of knowledge and a great human being," Tremblay said of Col. Neshat. "It was an education above and beyond what you could get at any university. This is a man who lived through the king of Afghanistan's time, the invasion of the Soviet Union, the instability of the Taliban and everything that's happened after Sept. 11. It's pretty humbling to hear his personal story."

The progress that has been made in Afghanistan over the last few years, he said, is remarkable.

"To see it as bad as it was in summer 2011, to see what it has become in May 2014, is just absolutely unbelievable," Tremblay said.

Scheduled to remain in Afghanistan through the end of the year, Tremblay said that throughout his deployment in Afghanistan, support from home has been overwhelming.

"I think in the news media there's a perception that no one cares about Afghanistan and the different wars, and that couldn't be further from the truth. I'm inundated with letters and care packages from Massachusetts, from members of the North Middlesex community and families I grew up with," Tremblay said.

And although his wife and three children are now based in North Carolina, Tremblay said that at some point, he hopes to make a return visit to Townsend, to visit his former high school and eat at the Townsend House with his oldest friends.

"I will definitely go back to see the friends that I made from age 7 up until my junior year at North Middlesex. Those are some of the best friends that I have made in my entire life," Tremblay said.

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