BANGOR, Maine — They won’t be home for Christmas, but 130 men and women from a Maine Army National Guard Medevac company are expected to return from a nine-month tour in Iraq shortly after New Year’s Day.
The announcement was made Wednesday that the soldiers from Charlie Company 1-126th Aviation regiment, also known as the Black Bears, are wrapping up their service. The exact time and date of their return, however, has not been released.
“Depending on how you look at it, each mission is a success; we go out every day and move patients,” the company’s commander, Maj. Brian Veneziano, a Hermon native, said in a statement
In their nine months in Iraq, the Black Bears’ helicopter ambulance unit flew more than 3,000 hours and was responsible for evacuating more than 650 patients from war zones.
“Every medic can tell you a story from this deployment that will make hair on the back of your neck stand up,” Veneziano said.
Fortunately, the 126th has not suffered any casualties on this deployment.
The Guard soldiers left Maine in January after a touching sendoff at the University of Maine in Orono. They spent a several weeks training in Fort Sill, Okla., before deploying to Iraq. Members of the 126th are from all over the state, but a majority of Black Bears are from Greater Bangor, according to a Guard spokesman.
The aviation unit, formerly known as the 112th Medical Company, flies helicopters into combat zones and evacuates injured soldiers and civilians. It first was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and was the first Maine Army Guard unit to enter the country. During its 2003-04 deployment to Iraq, the unit flew 3,600 hours and evacuated more than 1,000 patients, officials said last year.
“One of the greatest things about a Medevac unit, whether you’re transporting patients, maintaining aircraft or facilitating logistics, is we work as a team and put our mission first,” 1st Lt. Brian McClellan of Eliot said in a statement. “Medevac is based on speed and it is critical our sites are fully operational at all times so we can respond to those on the ground.”
The Black Bears had one particularly memorable mission this year during which members landed under hostile fire that killed one soldier on the ground and severely wounded two others. The Medevac crew successfully evacuated the injured soldiers and helped save their lives, earning U.S. Army Air Medals in the process.
When the 126th returns to the U.S., its members will report to Fort Carson, Colo., for a week or so of debriefing. Capt. Shanon Cotta, director of public affairs for the Maine National Guard, said it is possible the company might come through Bangor International Airport, but that’s still undecided.
When the group returns to Maine for good, Cotta said, a celebration will be planned.