OLD TOWN (AP) – A brother and sister are among about 130 Maine Army National Guard members poised to deploy to Iraq this week as part of an aviation unit that evacuates injured soldiers and civilians from combat zones.

Capt. Amy Johnston, 30, is a helicopter pilot and the highest-ranking woman in Charlie Company, 1-126th Aviation Regiment. Her job will be to airlift the injured to hospitals.

Her brother, Sgt. Troy Johnston, 30, works from the ground in flight operations, maintaining helicopters and tracking pilot routes as they fly over the country.

Charlie Company, formerly known as the 112th Medical Company (Air Ambulance), was sent to Iraq in 2003 and is returning to the war zone for the second time. Fifty of its soldiers, including Troy Johnston, made the first deployment, which took place while his sister was in flight school.

“I’m a little more worried this time, now they’re both going,” said Debbie Johnston, mother of the two Old Town High School graduates. “With her in the air in the medevac unit, I know they’re not supposed to shoot her down since she has a big red cross on the helicopter, but …”

“And then last time he (Troy) had to drive a tanker in a convoy, and he wrote me a letter almost like he was saying goodbye to me. You could tell he felt insecure in what he was going to be doing. I just bawled my eyes out reading it.”

Maj. Brian Veneziano, the company commander, said his troops spent most of 2007 training on new equipment and techniques.

Army procedures regarding a unit’s departure have improved in the years between the two deployments, particularly in preparing the family and soldier for separation, he said.

In 2003, soldiers got only about two weeks notice prior to deployment, Veneziano said, while this time they got the word a year in advance. That allowed them to participate in family day functions where chaplains provided support, the Guard’s Family Assistance Center gave advice on how best to communicate while overseas, and JAG officers educated soldiers on their legal rights and benefits, he said.

“You can’t prepare a family for deployment in 14 days,” Veneziano said. “As the commander I can’t make a soldier go out and set up his checking account with his wife so she can sign and write checks. I also can’t make him sit down with her and talk about the what ifs.”

Troy Johnston, who is married and has two children, said the 14-day notice in 2003 created a lot of anxiety, but over less time.

“The whole year here has been a black cloud of stress, whereas last time everything happened so fast,” he said. “Last time was stressful, but for a shorter amount of time.”



Information from: Bangor Daily News, http://www.bangornews.com

AP-ES-01-07-08 1045EST


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