126th homecoming in Bangor Friday afternoon

Spc. Philip Higgins (right), a crew chief for the 126th Aviation Medevac unit in Bangor, was one of 120 members deployed to Kuwait during the holidays in December.
Courtesy of Melissa Higgins
Spc. Philip Higgins (right), a crew chief for the 126th Aviation Medevac unit in Bangor, was one of 120 members deployed to Kuwait during the holidays in December.
Posted Jan. 23, 2013, at 7:15 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 23, 2013, at 8:03 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Family and friends of Bangor’s own “Black Bears” — the 126th Aviation Medevac unit — will get to see their loved ones Friday when the unit arrives home, Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, spokesman for the Maine Army National Guard, said Wednesday.

The unit left Maine nearly a year ago to serve in Kuwait, and arrived back on U.S. soil last week. The 82 or so citizen soldiers are at Fort Hood in Texas for their post-deployment debriefing, and will roll into Vacationland by bus on Friday.

“The unit served with distinction throughout the deployment,” Steinbuchel said.

Those left behind — the spouses, children, parents, cousins, boyfriends, girlfriends and friends — will meet the returning soldiers at 2 p.m. at the Army Aviation Support Facility on Hayes Street at Bangor International Airport, he said, adding the event is open to the public.

“There is a quick ceremony, bringing the company to attention, and then they are released,” the major said.

While deployed, the unit was assigned to conduct aerial medical evacuation for Kuwait — taking over for the U.S. Navy — and flew more than 1,200 missions, including 43 emergency medical evacuations that involved airlifting injured soldiers, military service dogs and civilians using Black Hawk helicopters.

“While working with U.S. and Kuwaiti naval forces, many of the crews achieved certifications necessary to conduct deck landings for ships under way,” Steinbuchel said in a press release.

Maj. Mark Stevens, a 1987 Kennebunk High School graduate, was the unit’s commander in Kuwait.

“Unit members have been recommended for five Meritorious Service Medals, nearly 60 Air Medals, 10 Army Commendation Medals and five Army Achievement Medals,” Steinbuchel said. “Homecomings have been a long-time military tradition and demonstrate appreciation for the soldiers’ service. Please join us in this important first step to reintegrating our soldiers back into the community.”

The 126th, which partnered with the Oregon-based 158th Aviation Medevac unit during the deployment, was attached to the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade while serving at Camp Buehring, Kuwait.

The unit returns home without Staff Sgt. Jessica Wing of Glenburn, a 23-year veteran helicopter mechanic who died in Kuwait in a noncombat-related incident on Aug. 27, 2012. The cause of her death has not been released.

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