Brig. Gen. James Campbell and his chief of staff, Col. Jack Mosher, knew early on that a proposal to swap the 133rd Engineer Battalion for an out-of-state infantry unit would be tough to navigate, both politically and with the public.

The same day the two Maine National Guard leaders received approval to proceed from the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., they emailed each other about the importance of discretion.

“As the very real possibility of the plan becoming reality emerges, I have to work very hard to contain my optimism and euphoria,” Mosher wrote in a Jan. 2, 2014 email. “We must continue to keep a very tight lid on this.”

Campbell agreed on keeping quiet, but was less optimistic.

“I fear that I’m too cynical to expect anything other than this fizzling out,” he wrote. “We’ve been disappointed before.”

As it turns out, the plan appeared close to fruition when its existence was leaked to the Portland Press Herald on April 29, 2014.

That leak, which occurred while Campbell was out of the country for training, set in motion a series of emails among Guard officials locally and in Washington, as well as public statements, that created confusion about what was happening and why – and ultimately led to Campbell’s firing.

A review of nearly 200 pages of emails and documents obtained by the Portland Press Herald under the federal Freedom of Information Act shows that Campbell was secretive and controlling about how the swap would be pitched, consumed with the idea of returning the engineer battalion to its historic infantry roots, and at times antagonistic toward engineers.

When Gov. Paul LePage and his staff reviewed the emails last month before their release, they concluded that Campbell’s public statements conflicted with what he was saying privately.

LePage fired Campbell on May 24, then immediately appointed Brig. Gen. Gerard Bolduc to assume command of the Maine National Guard and said he would work to undo any engineer-for-infantry swap.

In an interview two days after he was fired, Campbell said he was blindsided by the firing because he felt he had always been upfront with the governor. But he also acknowledged that they had only met face to face and there was no record of their conversations.

Campbell said he never had anything to hide, but the emails obtained by the Press Herald show that he was furious that his plan was leaked to the press – referring to the source in an April 30, 2014, email as “the irresponsible and unprofessional snake.”

ARGUING – QUIETLY – FOR UNIT SWAP

Campbell submitted a formal request to the National Guard Bureau dated Dec. 30, 2013.

Maine, he said, would swap out the entire 133rd Battalion, which is made up of six individual companies and roughly 570 soldiers, and in return would create an infantry unit consisting of three rifle companies, a weapons company and a headquarters company – provided another state agreed to partner.

Although the request acknowledged possible troop reductions, it clearly was made outside any discussion of budget cuts at the federal level. Adjutant generals – the title for top Guard officials in each state – often engage each other about personnel swaps. When those swaps are a “zero sum game,” they can be done outside major force restructuring conversations and often meet little resistance by the National Guard Bureau.

In his request, Campbell wrote that he wanted to transition Maine engineers “to reconstitute the historic 1st Battalion, 103 Infantry Regiment” – the original identity of the 133rd.

This would be the first of many times – both in emails obtained by the Press Herald and in public statements – that Campbell, who has a Ph.D. in military history, stressed the importance of restoring the 133rd to its infantry roots.

Those roots date back to the Civil War and legendary Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, who led the unit – then known as the 20th Maine – in the Battle of Gettysburg.

On Jan. 2, 2014, Campbell received written approval from Lt. Gen. William Ingram, then-director of the Army National Guard, to explore a swap.

The approval allowed Maine to begin engaging with other states, but Mosher and Campbell both worried about news getting out.

“We need to stop talking about this except behind closed doors and with a strictly limited circle,” Campbell wrote to Mosher on Jan. 2. The need for secrecy appeared to arise from expected resistance to the idea, although Campbell said he didn’t want news to reach the 133rd Engineers, who had been deployed to Afghanistan in the summer of 2013.

Things were quiet until April 8, when Mosher sent an email to Campbell indicating that New Mexico was interested in partnering on an engineer-for-infantry swap.

The next day, as Maine awaited specifics, Campbell worried about resistance.

“We will need to really line up solid arguments on why this is the right thing to do,” he wrote to Mosher on April 9.

Campbell went on to say that the governor’s chief of staff, John McGough, had already expressed concerns about losing engineers because they are highly skilled and often get jobs in the private sector. Engineers also have proven valuable to Maine in natural disasters, such as hurricanes and ice storms, because they have skills in rebuilding and repairing infrastructure.

Campbell, though, was dismissive of the value of engineers, calling the companies “marginally deployable,” and “difficult to train and recruit for.”

He also wrote that he told McGough that arguments against his plan were emotional and “based on shopworn prejudices.”

“Engineers aren’t smarter than infantrymen,” Campbell wrote to Mosher.

PUBLIC, PRIVATE CONTRADICTIONS

As talks with New Mexico continued, Mosher emailed his counterpart in New Mexico, Donnie Quintana, on April 11.

Mosher wrote that he asked National Guard Bureau officials whether engineer battalions would be reduced because of budget cuts.

“They assured me that both Maine and New Mexico would be secured with engineer force structure as border states,” he wrote to Quintana.

That language was critical because it conflicted with statements that Campbell would later make about the strong likelihood that Maine would lose engineers if federal cuts were approved.

A week later, an alternative to New Mexico emerged for Maine.

Mosher, writing to Campbell on April 22, said National Guard Bureau officials told him that Pennsylvania was looking to divest a full infantry brigade and could offer a battalion to Maine in exchange for engineers. That option could be a slightly better deal for Maine, Mosher wrote.

Campbell did not appear to have his mind made up about New Mexico or Pennsylvania by April 29, when the Press Herald first broke the story of a potential swap, relying on confidential information provided by Guard sources.

On the day of the leak, he drafted a lengthy email to members of Maine’s congressional delegation and also to Jonathan Nass, LePage’s senior policy adviser. In it, Campbell laid out his case for the engineer-to-infantry swap. He stressed that nothing had been decided, but said, “It is highly likely at this point that we will seek to make a change.”

Mosher met with Sen. Angus King in Washington the next day to shore up support. King, like others, expressed concerns about losing the 133rd. The senator praised the battalion for its efforts in peacetime, particularly during the 1998 ice storm, when King was Maine’s governor.

“Sir, we knew that there would be a predictable backlash in converting ‘Maine’s most storied unit’ and we are into it,” Mosher wrote.

The follow-up stories about the swap also reached the desk of Col. Jerry Wood, chief of staff of the Army National Guard’s director.

“Jack, ref. the below article (an attachment of an April 30 Portland Press Herald story) … what’s up? You asked for the conversion. Just curious,” Wood wrote, implying that Maine was in control of the swap and could pump the brakes at any time.

In a May 19 email, Wood also questioned whether LePage’s statement about any decision “being years away” matched what the state was seeking.

“We will need to know if this is the case,” he wrote, adding that the National Guard Bureau needed specifics of which units Maine was seeking to be swapped out by the end of that month.

REVELATIONS, ‘LOST FAITH,’ FIRING

By May 27, Campbell and LePage shifted the story.

The governor said the decision was not his to make, and Campbell, speaking publicly for the first time since the leak, said Maine was being forced to do it.

“We’re not going to volunteer for it,” he said.

In February of this year, long after the story had died down, Guard sources again contacted the Press Herald to say that an engineer-for-infantry swap involving Maine was included in the National Guard Bureau’s overall force structure plan.

Neither Campbell nor Guard public affairs officers responded to requests for comment from the Press Herald at the time. Campbell would later explain that LePage ordered him not to speak to any reporter from the Press Herald.

Campbell did speak to the Bangor Daily News on Feb. 4 of this year and confirmed that the 133rd Engineer Battalion would transition to the 1st Battalion, 103rd Infantry Regiment. He also continued to maintain that he was fighting the transition.

After efforts to obtain information from Guard officials were rebuffed, the Press Herald filed a Freedom of Information request Feb. 10 for Guard records.

LePage and his staff reviewed the records before they were released to the Press Herald on May 25.

LePage said those emails brought him to the conclusion that his adjutant general was not forthright with him. He went on to say that he had “lost faith” in Campbell’s ability to lead the Guard.

Campbell said he was surprised that LePage fired him because he felt like he was upfront. In an interview, he said he had nothing to hide.


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