The adjutant general of the Maine Army National Guard is scheduled to meet later this week with Gov. Paul LePage amid controversy over plans to swap out the guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion with an infantry unit.
Brig. Gen. James Campbell, who was appointed by LePage in 2012, also has faced mounting criticism among guard ranks about his leadership style.
A high-ranking officer who contacted Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz recently said: “The environment at Camp Keyes (the Maine Guard’s Augusta headquarters) right now is absolutely toxic. There is a poor command climate, lack of transparency and general intimidation from senior leaders. I haven’t seen anything like it in the 20-plus years I’ve been in the Guard.”
Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, would only confirm Monday that the governor is scheduled to meet with Campbell and his chief of staff, Col. Jack Mosher, at the State House later this week. LePage is at a Republican Governor’s Association event in New York, she said, and is not expected back until at least Wednesday evening.
Bennett would not say what Campbell and the governor will talk about, but it’s likely that the conversation will address reports that Campbell and Mosher drafted a plan that would send the 133rd Engineer Battalion out of state, possibly to Pennsylvania or Arizona, and replace those engineers with an infantry unit.
Campbell and Mosher both have extensive infantry backgrounds and sources within the guard have said the two men have created a pro-infantry, anti-engineering culture in the last two years.
“At the 1st leadership conference under his command, General Campbell stated, âWE KILL PEOPLE, THAT’S WHAT WE DO!!” one chief warrant officer now serving in Afghanistan wrote to the Press Herald, “Just how much âKilling’ do the citizens of Maine need?”
LePage and his staff have said for weeks now that no decision will be made without the governor’s approval and characterized the leak of any plans as a political ploy by detractors. Shortly after the story broke, LePage contacted a Press Herald reporter to ask for the source of the information. When the reporter didn’t give it, LePage replied, “Well it didn’t come from the Maine National Guard,” and then hung up.
The LePage administration also has said that Campbell has been exploring a number of options if the National Guard’s ranks were reduced nationwide, something President Barack Obama has supported with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down. Maine has roughly 2,100 guardsmen and women.
However, Campbell sent an email this month to members of Maine’s congressional delegation in which he said that it’s “highly likely” the Maine National Guard would add an infantry unit in exchange for the engineer battalion. And when the news first broke last month, guard spokesman Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, said plans for more infantrymen and fewer engineers have been in the works since 2008.
Many former and current guardsmen who have reached out to the Press Herald in the last three weeks have said that an engineering battalion is much more valuable to Maine, particularly in peacetime. If the engineering battalion were relocated, Maine would lose equipment and expertise that it has called on repeatedly for emergency responses and community service projects.
Campbell has been in Saudi Arabia for more than a month on a fellowship. He returned to Maine this week but was “not available” on Monday, Steinbuchel said.
About 160 members of the 133rd are currently deployed to Afghanistan to dismantle equipment and facilities that supported combat operations there for more than a decade.
The battalion is scheduled to return home to Maine next month after a nine-month deployment. Their homecoming could be awkward.
“So my Soldiers and I are expected to return to Maine, look General Campbell and Colonel Mosher in the eyes and shake their hand?” asked one senior noncommissioned officer in an email to the Press Herald.