Iraq war may be over, but Maine service members still facing deployment

Deployment photo of the Maine Army National Guard's 1136th Transportation Company.
Courtesy of Maine Army National Guard
Deployment photo of the Maine Army National Guard's 1136th Transportation Company.
Posted Dec. 16, 2011, at 6:31 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Even though the U.S. military officially declared an end to its mission in Iraq on Thursday, there are Maine soldiers remaining in harm’s way and there are plans to deploy more.

“We still have 110 soldiers and airmen currently deployed in the Afghanistan region and the Middle East,” Capt. Shanon Cotta, spokesman for the Army National Guard, said Friday. “Currently, five units are scheduled to deploy overseas in the next year.”

Most of the men and woman now deployed are part of Bangor’s 101st Air Refueling Wing — the MAINEiacs — and the 243rd Engineering and Installation Squadron, based in South Portland.

Members of the Bangor-based 126th Army National Guard medevac unit will be in the first group to head overseas, Cotta said, adding they have deployment orders to leave next month.

“They’re preparing to deploy” now, he said.

As of Friday, the 126th was scheduled to deploy to Kuwait, he said. Members are “awaiting an official Department of the Army deployment order, expected in January,” he said.

He could not say how many soldiers are leaving or say when the sendoff ceremony will be held. That information will be available once the deployment date gets closer, Cotta said.

Within the next year, the Maine Army National Guard will deploy “aviation, engineer and military police units overseas to Afghanistan and Middle East,” Cotta said. “The organization continues to train, equip and mobilize units in support of combat operations.”

The news that the war in Iraq ended Thursday has people at home thinking U.S. soldiers are out of the danger zone, said Skip Chappelle of Operation Community Support, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing services to Maine military families.

“Everybody thinks it’s over,” he said. “The medevac unit [members] already have their orders. They’re having Christmas knowing they’re going over.”

The Maine Army National Guard has deployed more than 2,600 soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Many of the Maine units have been deployed more than once.

The Maine soldiers and airmen are “answering the call of service to our nation,” Cotta said.

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