The adjutant general of the Maine Army National Guard sent an email Tuesday to members of the 133rd Engineer Battalion asserting that no decision has been made to move the unit, even though he previously told members of the state’s congressional delegation that a move was “highly likely.”
Last month, the Portland Press Herald learned that Brig. Gen. James Campbell and his chief of staff, Col. Jack Mosher, had put forth a plan that would send the 133rd Engineering Battalion to another state in exchange for an infantry unit.
Campbell and Mosher both have strong infantry backgrounds, and senior guard members who have contacted the Press Herald in the past few weeks said the current leadership wants more infantrymen and fewer engineers.
The 133rd Engineering Battalion has a long history in Maine. It has a strong tradition of public service in support of community projects, often for nonprofit groups, and also often assists in civil emergencies, such as floods and hurricanes. The engineering unit also has provided significant training opportunities for women, which some fear will be diminished if a transition is made to a combat battalion.
Gov. Paul LePage’s office has maintained for weeks that no decision would be made without the governor’s approval, and Campbell and Mosher have not spoken publicly about the leaked plan despite repeated requests for comment.
In his email Tuesday, Campbell, who just returned this week from a five-week fellowship in the Middle East, sought to assuage concerns that have been mounting since news of a potential realignment of the Guard first broke.
“Let me be absolutely clear: There has been no decision to move the 133rd Engineer Battalion from Maine,” Campbell wrote. “Some contingency planning has occurred, including this possibility. Unfortunately, those plans have been falsely portrayed in the media as a ‘done deal.’ We all know that as military professionals we must hope for the best and plan for the worst.”
Campbell wrote that the plans that are under consideration have essentially been initiated by President Barack Obama’s administration, which has proposed a budget that would reduce National Guard Bureau ranks by as many as 45,000 soldiers. He said moving the 133rd would be a “worse-case scenario” if that force reduction plan is approved by lawmakers.
“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 to have staff examine this possibility, not execute it.”
That statement, however, conflicts with an email Campbell sent 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.
It also conflicts with a presentation given by Mosher last month — seen by several high-ranking guard officers — that indicated the 133rd would likely be gone by next summer.
Campbell is scheduled to meet with Gov. Paul LePage later this week, according to LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, who provided Campbell’s email.
Eliot Cutler, independent candidate for governor, said LePage should never have allowed a discussion about moving the 133rd to another state, “to get so far down the road.
“But I urge the governor to end it now. This unit is too important to Maine to permit it to be sent to another state,” Cutler said in a statement, adding that members of the 133rd are a vital resource in emergency situations.
The Maine Democratic Party also has criticized the governor on the guard issue, calling it another example of the administration’s mismanagement.
The Press Herald has attempted to contact both Campbell and Mosher for weeks through Guard spokesman Michael Steinbuchel, who initially referred all questions to the governor’s office. On Monday, Steinbuchel said the general was “not available.” On Tuesday, he did not respond to emails or calls.
In addition to its assertion that no decision has been made on the 133rd’s fate, Campbell’s email Tuesday also seemed to hint at more recent reports about his leadership style and a toxic environment at Camp Keyes, the Guard’s headquarters in Augusta.
The general said he was “not going to respond to the allegation contained in these articles,” but did acknowledge “difficult times,” and asked for candor.
“I hope that as this process unfolds and decisions are made in Congress, we can communicate with each other openly and we can address our questions and concerns honestly and clearly with all of the relevant facts,” he wrote.