BANGOR – Past and present members of the Maine Army National Guard gathered Saturday afternoon to say goodbye to a unit that has been a commanding presence in the city for almost four decades.
The 112th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) officially was decommissioned in a changing of the colors ceremony held at the new Aviation Support Facility on Maine Avenue.
Although the unit’s name has changed, the Guard’s presence in Bangor will not.
The old unit was renamed the 1-126th Aviation, which is headquartered in Rhode Island. Under the new battalion, there will be two companies, Charlie Company 1-126th Aviation and Charlie Company 3-142nd Air Assault. All of the members of the 112th were reassigned to one of the new companies. No jobs were lost as a result of the restructure. The soldiers will continue to train at the base in Bangor.
The 126th will serve as the air ambulance that will evacuate and transport soldiers and residents from combat zones, similar to the mission of the 112th. The helicopters of the 142nd are assault choppers, equipped with machine guns, prepared to transport soldiers into combat areas, Maj. Brian Veneziano, the company commander, said.
“I’m very sad to see the history of such a long-standing successful organization go, but I’m looking forward to taking the experience from the past and moving into the future, Veneziano said.
The transition resulted from a National Guard reorganization, which affects 75 percent of its units. It’s the largest National Guard transformation since World War II, Veneziano said.
The restructuring was designed to keep soldiers with similar training and specialties together so they can deploy more easily than a unit like the 112th, Veneziano said.
The 112th was an all-encompassing unit that had desk clerks and cooks working with mechanics and helicopter pilots. Now, split into two companies, only the group that suits the present mission will be deployed.
During times of war, the unit will be headquartered in Rhode Island, but during peacetime efforts, it will serve Maine and report to the governor.
“The way the Army is transitioning we now work with units in a variety of states,” Lt. Col. Bennett Singer, commander of the 1-126th Aviation of Rhode Island, said after the ceremony.
The commander said he was honored to welcome the group to his battalion and was impressed by the unit’s long history and work. “[The 112th] had one of the most impressive lineage of any aviation unit I’ve seen,” he said.
The 112th had more than 100 soldiers and 12 aircraft. Thirty soldiers had been deployed more than once and more than 75 percent of the unit had been deployed, 1st Lt. Carl Chandler, who served as the master of ceremony for the event, said.
While serving from 2003-2004 in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 112th flew 3,600 hours, evacuating more than 1,000 patients, Chandler said.
“To fly that many hours and do that many evacuations in a combat zone without any damage is amazing,” Lt. Col. William Blaine, former commander of the unit from 1981-1984, said.
“This is a big bittersweet moment for all of us,” Command Sgt. Maj. Greg Small said. “Bitter because of the memories and sweet because Maine is going to complete its aviation heritage.”