AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage met privately for more than two hours Thursday with the head of the Maine National Guard and later issued a statement saying that no decision has been made about making changes to the Guard.
The Portland Press Herald reported two weeks ago that Brig. Gen. James Campbell had been planning to swap the 133rd Engineering Battalion for an infantry group.
Thursday, LePage met for the first time with Campbell, who returned this week from Saudi Arabia. After the meeting, which took place inside the governor’s office, Campbell left quietly and LePage abruptly canceled a public appearance in the Hall of Flags, just steps from his office.
Campbell sent an email to members of Maine’s congressional delegation earlier this month in which he said it’s “highly likely” the Maine Guard will “make a change with another state” to swap the 133rd for an infantry unit.
A presentation given by Campbell’s chief of staff, Col. Jack Mosher, last month – seen by several high-ranking guard officers – indicated that the transfer of the 133rd’s equipment to another state would completed by 2015.
LePage’s statement was released about two hours after the meeting, reiterating what Campbell already said in an email to guard members this week.
“Once again, no decision has been made, nor will it be for years,” said LePage. “This issue has been mischaracterized in the media and politicized by liberal Democratic Representatives Chellie Pingree – whose office leaked the information to reporters – and Mike Michaud, who are trying to make it a campaign issue,” the statement read. “It is shameful they would use the Maine National Guard members as pawns in their election-year tactics. I will say it again: While I am commander-in-chief, I will not do anything to harm the dedicated men and women of the Maine National Guard.”
In fact, Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz, who first broke the story that the 133rd would likely leave Maine, said Thursday that the tip came from “within the Maine Army National Guard, not the congressional delegation.”
Last month, the Press Herald learned that Campbell and Mosher were proceeding with a plan that would reorganize the Maine National Guard. The centerpiece of that plan was to swap out the 133rd for an infantry unit. Campbell and Mosher both have lengthy infantry backgrounds.
Campbell and now LePage have both insisted that no decision has been made, and have blamed the Obama administration for considering eliminating 20,000 soldiers from the National Guard ranks.
“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,” the governor stated in a letter sent Thursday to the president. “I believe these cuts will harm national security and dramatically reduce the State of the Maine’s homeland security and emergency management capabilities.”