Brig. Gen. James Campbell misled the public – and his boss – about his plan to swap the 133rd Engineer Battalion of the Maine Army National Guard for an out-of-state infantry unit, according to records obtained by the Portland Press Herald under the Freedom of Information Act.

The records also show that Campbell failed to acknowledge publicly or to Gov. Paul LePage that Maine – along with all other border states – was never at risk of losing its engineers under a federal proposal to reduce National Guard forces nationwide.Campbell mis-characterized his intentions beginning in the spring of 2014 when he stated repeatedly that the battalion swap was being forced upon the state by proposed cuts at the federal level being debated by the Obama administration and Congress.

The discrepancy between Campbell’s public statements and the written record of his communications explains why Gov. Paul LePage abruptly fired Campbell on Tuesday, moments before he was scheduled to deliver his annual “State of the Guard” speech to a joint session of the Legislature.

The Press Herald first reported the engineers-for-infantry swap on April 29, 2014, based on tips from National Guard sources.

The plan ran into fierce criticism, including from within the Guard, because the battalion has a long history of using its engineering and construction skills to respond to blizzards, floods and other natural disasters across Maine, and to working with community and nonprofit groups on many civic projects.

Campbell has never agreed to an interview with the Press Herald, but in various public statements he has said the plan was a reaction to the Obama administration’s proposal to reduce National Guard forces nationwide. LePage has backed up Campbell in statements of his own.

Campbell issued a brief statement to the newspaper Wednesday night, saying “I’ve been fortunate to serve in the United States Army for almost 30 years, and was honored to have been appointed by Governor LePage to serve as Maine’s Adjutant General. I appreciate the opportunities my military service has provided me, and I wish the Governor and my colleagues in the Maine National Guard the best of luck as they continue to serve the people of Maine.”

Campbell also retained a spokesman, Lance Dutson. Dutson issued a statement Wednesday night asserting that as part of the federal budget planning process, Campbell was made aware of potential cuts in Guard forces months before they were announced by Obama, and that his efforts to bring an infantry unit into Maine were in response to those early budget plans.

In a May 20 email to members of the 133rd Engineer Battalion, Campbell wrote that moving the battalion would be a “worst-case scenario” if Congress were to approve the administration’s proposal to cut National Guard forces by up to 45,000 soldiers.

“And, as all of you know, in the event that such a change might occur, nobody from Maine will be required to transfer out of our state,” Campbell wrote. “Again, we have been asked by staff to examine this possibility, not execute it.”

After meeting with Campbell on May 22, LePage issued a statement indicating that no decision on a battalion swap was imminent. The governor also released a letter he had written to Obama.

“I am writing as the commander-in-chief of the Maine National Guard to express grave concern with your Administration’s proposal to significantly cut National Guard forces across the country,” LePage said in the letter. “I believe these cuts will harm national security and dramatically reduce the State of Maine’s homeland security and emergency management capabilities.”

On May 27, LePage and Campbell held a brief State House press conference at which Campbell said he opposed the plan to relocate the 133rd Engineer Battalion, but it was “probable” that the swap would happen because of a strategic decision by the Army to create more infantry units.

He said the Army was considering cutting construction and engineering battalions like the 133rd by 20 percent in the coming years, and creating five new infantry battalions in the next five years. Maine hoped to add an infantry unit, rather than lose a unit entirely, he said.

“We don’t want to lose jobs,” Campbell said. “We don’t want to do this. We’re not going to volunteer for it. What we’ve said to the National Guard is, if the worst case happens, we’d rather convert a unit than have it eliminated entirely.

“We think that, based on the strategic view and all these things we’re being told, it’s probable that this is going to happen,” he said, “unless of course Congress overturns the Budget Control Act and we don’t end up doing any transformations.”

But the records obtained Wednesday by the Press Herald show that, in fact, Campbell himself initiated the proposal to move out the engineering battalion and replace it with an infantry unit from another state in December 2013 – months before Obama announced the proposed force reduction.

In a Dec. 30, 2013 memo to Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram, Jr., director of the Army National Guard, Campbell outlined his “force transition plan” to exchange the engineering battalion for an infantry unit, as described in an accompanying Nov. 20 “State of the State” presentation, and asked for Ingram’s support.

Campbell said he wanted to reconstitute the 1st Battalion, 103rd Infantry Regiment, which was formerly the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the historic unit that played a key role in the Battle of Gettysburg under Col. Joshua Chamberlain. Campbell listed numerous reasons why Maine would benefit from the battalion swap, including returning the Maine Army National Guard “to its historic base of infantry, and return one of the most storied heritage units in the Army to the corps of the infantry.”

In a Jan. 2, 2014 email response to Campbell, Ingram approved development of the force transition plan. “I would very much like to see the ’20th Maine’ reconstituted,” Ingram wrote.

Later on Jan. 2, Campbell’s chief of staff, Col. Jack Mosher, emailed Campbell under the subject heading “Historic Moments,” writing: “As the very real possibility of the plan becoming reality emerges, I have to work very hard to contain my optimism and euphoria. We must continue to keep a very tight lid on this while moving deliberately forward with each action.”

Campbell replied less than an hour later, “I agree that we need to stop talking about this except behind closed doors and with a strictly limited circle. A possible worst outcome would be that we get the organization spun up, stressed out and some people pissed off, and then nothing happens. Then we have all the negatives, we look like fools, and we get nothing good … “

In a May 2 email from the Army National Guard’s chief of staff to Campbell and others, the federal official made it clear that the force structure plan involving the 133rd was a request from Campbell, and that Maine was sticking with that plan.

Campbell, in an email to his staff the next day, wrote that, “ultimately, this will be decided by us.”

Also, an April 11 email between Mosher and his counterpart in New Mexico – one of the states that might have sent an infantry unit to Maine – indicated that neither Maine nor New Mexico were going to lose engineers, even if drastic cuts happened, because they were border states.

Mosher wrote that he had spoken with unnamed National Guard officials at the federal level “and they assured me that both Maine and New Mexico would be secured with Engineer Force Structure as border states….”

Senior LePage officials said Wednesday that the governor had been suspicious of Campbell’s intentions for a while, but it wasn’t until he saw the records prepared for the Press Herald that he decided to fire Campbell as adjutant general of the Maine National Guard.

According to the governor’s office, Campbell was given chances to explain his actions dating back to last year.

Guard members have said Campbell’s loyalty to the infantry, at the expense of engineers, created a rift from the beginning.

In his first leadership conference when he took over, Campbell summed up the Guard’s missions this way: “We kill people. That’s what we do,” according to officers who were present.

LePage said in a statement Tuesday that he had lost faith in Campbell’s ability to lead the Guard. In a subsequent interview, the governor said he decided to fire Campbell after his legal staff reviewed the documents shortly before they were released to the Press Herald.

In a letter to the Guard on Wednesday, LePage described his dismissal of Campbell as a difficult step.

“It was not a decision I took lightly,” LePage wrote. “However, I am confident it was in the best interest of you – our soldiers and airmen – and for the Maine National Guard.”

LePage appointed Brig. Gen. Gerard F. Bolduc of the Air National Guard to serve as acting adjutant general, a position that also serves as commissioner of the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management.

Bolduc released an email to the department Wednesday urging Guard members to continue their work and remain focused on their duties. He expressed gratitude for Campbell’s leadership and said he served “with dignity and distinction.”

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