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Top Maine Guard official: No decision made to move 133rd Engineer Battalion

AUGUSTA, Maine — In an email to soldiers and their families Tuesday, the head of Maine’s Army National Guard attempted to quell concerns raised by reports that the state’s 133rd Engineer Battalion would be relocated and replaced with an infantry unit.

“Let me be absolutely clear: There has been no decision to move the 133rd Engineer Battalion from Maine,” wrote Brig. Gen. James Campbell, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard.

“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,” he wrote.

Guard officials discussed the proposal to relocate the 500-member engineer unit with staffers of Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in late April, according to a Pingree spokesman.

Since then, the Guard consistently has downplayed the plan, saying it’s only one of several options on the table in the face of sweeping cuts proposed in the Army’s 2015 budget request.

Gov. Paul LePage has declared that the battalion isn’t going anywhere under his watch.

LePage and Campbell are scheduled to meet later this week, according to the governor’s press secretary, Adrienne Bennett.

In the email sent Tuesday, which was obtained by the Bangor Daily News through the governor’s office, Campbell tells soldiers the National Guard Bureau has directed all states to engage in a process that would rebalance units nationally in the event that the entire Guard has to endure the cuts proposed in the budget.

“These cuts would potentially include up to 45,000 soldiers across all states, including Maine, and would take place over the course of the next several years if the Army’s plan unfolds,” Campbell wrote.

Though the email stated that no decisions have been made about moving the 133rd Engineer Battalion, Campbell warned that if the Army’s proposed budget cuts are accepted by Congress, the Guard will be forced to reduce its manpower — a reduction that potentially would result in the loss of some engineer companies and other units.

He described that reduction as a “worst-case scenario” that could result in the loss of Maine’s engineer battalion, but reassured soldiers and their families that “nobody from Maine will be required to transfer out of our state.”

He also said the Guard’s mission requires state engineers, so Maine would not lose its entire engineering capability.

In February, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed a five-year Pentagon budget that would shrink Army forces to the levels they were at before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Hagel said his focus was on a “smaller and more capable force — putting a premium on rapidly deployable, self-sustaining platforms that can defeat more technologically advanced adversaries.”

The proposal has been criticized by governors, including LePage, for the effect it likely would have on National Guard units, which provide jobs and are responsible not only for national defense, but emergency response and some civil tasks, including engineering.

In February, LePage joined every governor in the country in signing a letter to President Barack Obama urging opposition to the Army’s budget request.

“The Army’s proposed cuts suggest a pre-2001 strategic reserve construct,” they wrote. “Governors are extremely proud of the role that the National Guard plays in protecting this nation and its citizens. The modern National Guard is a highly experienced and capable combat force and an essential state partner in responding to domestic disasters and emergencies.

“A return to a pre-9/11 role squanders the investment and value of the Guard and discredits accomplishments at home and as an active combat force,” they wrote.

The 133rd is made up of soldiers from the 136th Engineer Company in Skowhegan and Lewiston, 185th Engineer Support Company from Caribou, 251st Engineer Company SAPPER of Norway, the Forward Support Company in Portland, Headquarters Support Company, the 262nd Engineer Company based in Belfast and Westbrook, and the 1035th Survey and Design Team of Gardiner.

There are 167 members of the 133rd deployed in Afghanistan working to downsize and consolidate bases as the United States prepares to withdraw its remaining military forces.

The email from Campbell to Guard members comes after reports were published in the Portland Press Herald citing anonymous Guard sources who described a “toxic” work environment, lack of transparency and poor communication by Guard officials in the wake of revelations about the relocation proposal.
 

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