Gov. Paul LePage intends to keep the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion in the state.

“Governor LePage wants to be clear: Talk about movement of the 133rd is a dead issue,” administration spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said in a statement Thursday. “It’s not going anywhere.”

The statement from Bennett came two days after LePage abruptly relieved Brig. Gen. James Campbell of his command over the Maine National Guard, saying he believed Campbell misled him and the public about his plan to swap the engineers for an infantry unit from outside Maine.

In April 2014, after the Portland Press Herald first reported on the planned unit swap, Campbell said the personnel maneuver was necessary to keep guard units in Maine, in the face of impending cuts to the military that would affect units nationwide. But records obtained by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act indicated that Campbell’s plan was not connected to the force cutbacks, and appeared to have been initiated in part to restore the historic presence of infantry units in Maine.

LePage, after having his staff review the records requested by the newspaper, believed that Campbell had not been candid about his actions or motives.

“In this instance, the governor certainly trusted the general’s word,” Bennett wrote in a statement to the Press Herald on Thursday afternoon. “It took longer than expected to verify the facts.”

Following Campbell’s ouster, 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.

LePage is expected to meet with Bolduc on Wednesday to begin planning a path forward for the Maine National Guard, Bennett said.

The swap proposed by Campbell was originally framed as a way to preserve Maine’s guard levels against a push from the Obama administration to reduce troop levels across all branches of the military following the closure of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and because of the federal budget curtailment known as the sequester. Officials have estimated that as many as 45,000 National Guard troops could be eliminated, dropping the number of total Nation Guardsmen and women throughout the country to 315,000.

Following news of the probable unit swap, Campbell wrote in a May 20 email to members of the 133rd Engineer Battalion 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.”

Joined by LePage a week later in a news conference, Campbell would double down on his assertion about the swap, saying that although he opposed it, the swap was likely to happen, and was Maine’s best chance to preserve guard jobs.

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

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

Campbell said he wanted to reconstitute the 1st Battalion, 103rd Infantry Regiment – formerly the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment under Col. Joshua Chamberlain, with roots dating to the Civil War. He listed numerous reasons why Maine would benefit from the battalion swap, including restoring the Maine Army National Guard “to its historic base of infantry, and (returning) one of the most storied heritage units in the Army to the corps of the infantry.”

Ingram was supportive. In a subsequent message between Campbell and Col. Jack Mosher, one of his top staffers, Mosher suggested they “keep a very tight lid” as the swap moved forward.

Campbell agreed.

“We need to stop talking about this except behind closed doors and with a strictly limited circle,” Campbell wrote. “A possible worst outcome would be that we get the organization spun up, stressed out and some people pissed off, and then nothing happens. The we have all the negatives, we look like fools, and we get nothing good.”

So far in the national process of restructuring the military, no decision has been made about the composition of Maine’s National Guard units, according to a statement released Thursday by the National Guard Bureau. The state has about 2,100 guardsmen and women.

Engineer units are particularly valuable because of their specialized training in emergency response and the building trades. Skills taught to engineer unit members – such as plumbing, carpentry and heavy construction – are directly transferable to the private sector, and during a natural disaster, engineer units have the equipment necessary to construct a road or bridge quickly, where other guard units could not operate.

Annually, the 133rd performs extensive community service construction projects, such as helping to rebuild Boy Scout camps and ball fields free of charge for organizations that can’t afford to pay for the work.

Maine’s guard unit also has been deployed to combat zones multiple times since Sept. 11 and the ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where for eight months until May 2014, more than 160 soldiers assisted in the draw-down of troops and equipment in the waning days of the war there.

Following Campbell’s firing, members of Maine’s congressional delegation weighed in on the process ahead.

Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins issued a joint statement Thursday in which they said it would be up to LePage to direct the future of the unit.

“As Commander in Chief of the Maine National Guard, it is up to Governor LePage to decide what he wants the composition of the 133rd to look like,” King and Collins said. “We will continue to work with state officials to make sure the Maine National Guard has the capabilities and assets that are most appropriate for the State of Maine. Our understanding is that the Department of the Army has made no final decisions regarding the disposition of the 133rd.”

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican representing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, said he looks forward to working with the next adjutant general, and that he would “provide whatever support I can to ensure we keep resources in Maine to deal with natural disasters and to ensure our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to be effective.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree’s staff is slated to meet Friday with representatives from the Guard Bureau to obtain an update on the situation, according to the office of the Democrat from Maine’s 1st District.

Guard bureau staff have indicated that they will take direction from state-level officials on the future composition of the 133rd, indicating that LePage’s desire to keep the engineering unit intact may be honored.

Overall troop reductions, however, are possible, and the extent to which the Maine National Guard shares in the national reductions remains a decision of the Chief of Staff or the Secretary of the Army.


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