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National Guard Troops Return to Maine After a Yearlong Deployment
01/25/2013   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell
National Guard Soldiers Deplane

The families of 75 soldiers are a breathing a bit easier tonight as their loved ones in the Maine Army National Guard returned home safely from a year long deployment in the Middle East.

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Family Members Greet National Guard Soldiers

Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, friends, and several very excited dogs welcomed the 126th Aviation company back to Bangor. The group of Maine Army National Guardsmen and women has spent the last year based in Kuwait, flying throughout the region on medical evacuation missions, which put the pilots and medics into harm's way. Tonight, they're back in their own beds.

"It feels still feels a little bit surreal like it hasn't completely sunk it yet but I'm waiting for that to happen," said Nick Emery.

He is just back from his first tour of duty in the Middle East where he worked on aviation electronics for the Black Hawk helicopters used to run the medical missions. He was greeted by a huge group of family and friends, all sporting T-Shirts reading "Welcome Back Joe," with the "Joe" crossed out and "Nick" written in. Joe is Nick's older brother who has done two tours already as a pilot; he said it's likely that both he and brother Nick will be re-deployed in the near future.

"There's a cycle that we all follow and when our time comes, then we go at it again," Nick Emery said.

The 75 soldiers of the 126th Aviation Company touched American soil a week ago, and have undergone reintegration exercises at Fort Hood in Texas that are designed to ease their re-entry to civilian life. Major Michael Steinbuchel said that making a smooth transition between active duty and civilian life is something the Guard takes very seriously. Soliders have constant access to counseling if they need it, and he said, even demonstrations of public appreciation can help.

"We think that homecomings are a very important part of reintegrating our soldiers into the community and events like this show the support that the community has for our soldiers," Steinbuchel said.

During its deployment, the company flew more than 1200 sorties and completed 43 medical evacuation missions throughout the region, earning the company recommendations for at least 80 medals and service awards. But the best prize, said many of the family members, is having their sons, daughters, moms and dads back home safely, at least for now.
Photos by Nick Woodward.


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