126th aviation unit home for good

Posted Jan. 01, 2009, at 7:41 a.m.
Staff Sgt. Kirk St. Peter of Caribou visits with his daughter Marienna, 4, upon his return from Iraq with Charlie Company 1-126th Aviation Regiment on Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009 in Bangor. The Maine Army National Guard medevac unit, known as the 'Black Bears,' flew more than 3,000 hours and helped evacuate 670 patients during its deployment.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
Staff Sgt. Kirk St. Peter of Caribou visits with his daughter Marienna, 4, upon his return from Iraq with Charlie Company 1-126th Aviation Regiment on Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009 in Bangor. The Maine Army National Guard medevac unit, known as the 'Black Bears,' flew more than 3,000 hours and helped evacuate 670 patients during its deployment.
Zakery Chadbourne, 3, was roused from his sleep early Thursday to greet his father Staff Sgt. Scott Chadbourne of Newburgh upon his return from Iraq with Charlie Company 1-126th Aviation Regiment on Thursday, January 1, 2009 in Bangor. The Maine Army National Guard medevac unit, known as the “Black Bears,” flew more than 3,000 hours and helped evacuate 670 patients.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
Zakery Chadbourne, 3, was roused from his sleep early Thursday to greet his father Staff Sgt. Scott Chadbourne of Newburgh upon his return from Iraq with Charlie Company 1-126th Aviation Regiment on Thursday, January 1, 2009 in Bangor. The Maine Army National Guard medevac unit, known as the “Black Bears,” flew more than 3,000 hours and helped evacuate 670 patients.
Sgt. David Spaulding of West Gardiner greets his wife, Mikee, and daughter Amber, 5 months, upon his return from Iraq with Charlie Company 1-126th Aviation Regiment on Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009 in Bangor. The Maine Army National Guard medevac unit, known as the “Black Bears,” flew more than 3,000 hours and helped evacuate 670 patients.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
Sgt. David Spaulding of West Gardiner greets his wife, Mikee, and daughter Amber, 5 months, upon his return from Iraq with Charlie Company 1-126th Aviation Regiment on Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009 in Bangor. The Maine Army National Guard medevac unit, known as the “Black Bears,” flew more than 3,000 hours and helped evacuate 670 patients.

BANGOR, Maine — The diehards crowded in front; wives, husbands, parents, siblings.

They whistled and erupted in applause as the uniforms filed in. Anticipation mounted for those magic words, “fall out.”

Other spectators, like Woody Carver, kept a distance, preferring to watch from afar while a series of individual moments prepared to overtake the Army Aviation Support Facility at Bangor International Airport.

“I spent 28 years in the [Army] reserves, and we never had anything like this,” Carver said. “People come out of the woodwork.”

Charlie Company of the 1-126th Aviation Regiment of the Maine Army National Guard returned to Bangor before dawn Thursday morning, the first day of 2009. After nearly a year away from Maine, nine months of

it spent in Iraq, 130 men and women were home for good.

The moment men and women of the 126th were officially dismissed from their duty, Jami Freeman of Bucksport reached up on her toes to find her boyfriend, Shawn Devinney.

He spotted her and she him, and they played a brief game of dodge-the-crowd before they embraced. Devinney

picked her up off the ground, twirled around several times and then simply held her, a yellow rose in his hand as it curled around Freeman’s back.

In that instant, they may as well have been the only two people in the expansive airplane hangar.

Just before his arrival, Freeman admitted that she and Devinney, a mechanic with the medevac unit, had not been dating that long when he was called away for duty.

“It made us stronger,” she said of his deployment, and the moment they shared on Thursday seemed to affirm

what they both knew.

The airport facility was filled with similar moments. Beaming parents hugged their sons or daughters, relieved to have them home in spite of the ungodly hour of the morning. Children up way past their bedtime

shared simple conversations with their moms or dads that they haven’t had in person for months.

Kerry Birmingham, who manages the family assistance program for the Maine Army National Guard, said welcome home ceremonies never get old.

Like Carver, Birmingham is a veteran. He served in Vietnam, another unpopular war, and said, for him, returning home then was not like it is today.

“I think a lot of us [veterans] like to take part now to ensure that never happens again,” he said of the lack of enthusiasm for Vietnam War returnees. “No matter where you stand on war, everyone deserves a

homecoming.”

The 126th, an air ambulance unit known as the Black Bears, was responsible for evacuating more than 650 patients from possible death at war. In addition to saving lives in Iraq, the unit came home whole.

No casualties.

Gov. John Baldacci was among those who stayed up late to greet soldiers and said he’s always amazed at the turnout when Mainers return from war.

“I think it really gets people thinking about what’s important in their lives,” he said.

As the men and women enjoyed their individual moments, oblivious to the chaos around them, Carver and others stood in the back, watching and smiling.

“To see the families and their reactions … ” Carver said. “It’s just nice to be there.”

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