BANGOR, Maine — The Black Hawk helicopter mechanic from Glenburn who died Monday while serving in Kuwait loved her job and spent more than half of her life in military service, a longtime friend, Staff Sgt. Sean Miller, said Wednesday.
Staff Sgt. Jessica Wing, 42, a UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief for the Bangor-based 126th Aviation Medevac unit, died in a noncombat-related incident during her sixth overseas deployment. She spent 23 years in uniform.
“It’s just a real shock,” Miller said in a telephone interview Wednesday, his voice cracking with emotion. “She was very dedicated to the Army, her job and to her friends. My heart is filled with sorrow.”
Wing had been mobilized three times during her 11 years fixing helicopters as an active-duty U.S. Army soldier, once to Haiti and twice to Bosnia, before moving back to Maine and joining the 126th medevac unit — known as the “Black Bears” — eight years ago.
“She served with distinction during her active-duty deployments,” Capt. Shanon Cotta, spokesman for the Maine Army National Guard, said Wednesday. “Wing was on her third deployment with the Maine Army National Guard to the Middle East in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.”
After getting out of the regular Army, but before she returned to Maine, Wing also served as a citizen soldier in Washington, D.C., Miller said.
“Her parents are both from here and she grew up here,” he said. “She wanted to be closer to her mother and father.”
Her mother died about two years ago. She is survived by her father, who lives in Aroostook County, and two sisters, her friend said.
In addition to Wing’s Guard job, she also had a second job fixing and maintaining helicopters at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Bangor, Miller said.
A total of 102 citizen soldiers from the 126th deployed in February to Kuwait to serve with 15,000 other soldiers — some of whom moved over from Iraq — in a reaction force, now retired Maj. Gen. John “Bill” Libby, former adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, said at the unit’s sendoff ceremony.
Just before the 126th left for Kuwait earlier this year, “we had dinner together and talked about the deployment,” Miller said.
Even though Wing was heading into harm’s way for the sixth time, her mind was still on her stateside job at the Army Aviation Support Facility, Miller said.
“She wanted to make sure the aircraft we have at the Army Aviation Support Facility were taken care of while she was gone,” her friend said. “She was very dedicated to her job. She always demanded excellence of herself and the soldiers around her.”
With two decades of experience fixing and maintaining helicopters — Black Hawk, Huey, Apache and other aircraft — she was the unit’s go-to person, he said.
“She was a subject matter expert,” Miller said. “A lot of other people went to her with questions.”
Details about how she died have not been released.
“The tragic incident is currently under investigation by the Department of Defense,” Cotta said.
Wing is the third Maine soldier to die while deployed overseas this year.
An Army helicopter pilot, Capt. John “Jay” R. Brainard III of Newport, was killed on Memorial Day in Afghanistan when the Apache helicopter he was piloting crashed. A Brunswick native, Army Capt. David Haas, 30, was killed in June after he was struck by a city bus while stationed in South Korea.
Using Black Hawk helicopters, the 126th picked up and treated more than 650 patients — with injuries that ranged from broken fingers to extreme combat trauma — during its last deployment to Iraq in 2008, unit commander Maj. Mark Stevens said just before the unit departed earlier this year.
A majority of the weekend warriors who left with the 126th for Kuwait had deployed previously, he said.
Gov. Paul LePage said in a news release that he and his wife were greatly saddened by news of Wing’s death.
“Maine has lost a great soldier and a great Mainer,” he said. “We are forever indebted to her for her service to her state and to her country.”
Col. James Campbell, acting Maine National Guard adjutant general, called Wing’s death a tragic loss that “has deeply saddened and shocked all of us in the Maine National Guard and across the State of Maine.”
U.S. Sens Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud also issued statements of condolence.
“Her service in the U.S. Army helped weave the fabric of our great nation, and we will forever owe her a debt of gratitude that we can never repay, but will never forget,” said Snowe, who is retiring at the end of this year.
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Staff Sergeant Jessica Wing,” said Collins. “I admire her courage to bravely serve our country. I join all Mainers in being both proud and grateful for her service and dedication. My deepest sympathies go out to her family and all those who loved her.”
“My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends during this tremendously difficult time,” Michaud said. “I know I join many Mainers in being forever grateful for the 23 years of decorated service she devoted to our nation’s defense.”
Funeral arrangements for Wing have not yet been made.
Wing was featured in a 2005 Bangor Daily News story, written just before her fourth deployment. She and three other helicopter mechanics with the 126th were leaving for Kuwait, and the veteran soldier acknowledged that — even with her previous experience — there are no guarantees in life.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been deployed, once or 100 times, it’s all the same,” Wing said. “You don’t know what you’re getting into.”