PRESQUE ISLE (AP) – The 152nd Field Artillery Battalion, a Maine Army National Guard unit whose 84-year history was capped by a deployment to Iraq, is giving way to the 152nd Engineer Support Company, a transformation expected to be completed in two years.

The artillery unit fired its last round in June during its annual training at Gagetown, New Brunswick. Elements of the battalion are performing security duty in Iraq or training for deployment to the Middle East.

The Aroostook County-based Guard unit, which has 182 soldiers, will end up with 147, including five officers.

At a ceremony Tuesday at the Presque Isle Armory, Gov. John Baldacci, U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud and Brig. Gen. Brent Boyles, assistant adjutant general of the Maine Guard, extolled the artillery battalion’s proud history and welcomed the new unit’s arrival.

“My first responsibility as governor is to protect the health, safety and welfare of Maine people,” Baldacci said. “The new unit we celebrate today will possess a variety of engineering capabilities that will have a positive effect on Aroostook County and the state of Maine.”

Michaud told the crowd of 200 that he was pleased that the new unit would, for the first time, afford women the opportunity to serve in an Aroostook-based Army National Guard unit.

Boyles said the unit, which supports community projects, will be available for reconstruction work statewide, but especially in Maine’s northernmost county.

“Local communities will be able to embark on projects they could not otherwise perform,” he said.

Formed in 1922, the 152nd Field Artillery Battalion served in World War II, Desert Shield and Desert Storm, as well as in Iraq.

The change is being made because the Army has concluded that there is a much greater need for engineering forces than artillery units, Maj. Michael Backus, a spokesman for the Guard, said earlier.

Machinery for the engineering group began arriving this week in Presque Isle, and a construction grader, a low bed tractor and an excavator were on display at the transformation ceremony.

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