His abilities – or lack thereof – as Maine’s chief executive are well documented. But as the self-described “Commander in Chief of the Maine National Guard,” Gov. Paul LePage is downright delusional.
Two possible explanations underlie LePage’s claim last week that reports of a planned surrender of the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion to Pennsylvania’s National Guard, in exchange for an infantry battalion, are a “total fabrication” by this newspaper and the governor’s political adversaries.
The first: The Maine Guard, under Brig. Gen. James Campbell, has been quietly but diligently hatching this plan without the governor’s knowledge – at least until it appeared across the top of the Portland Press Herald on Wednesday.
The second: LePage, as he’s been known to do from time to time, is flat-out lying.
To recap: Last week, after the Press Herald pursued a tip and published a story that the highly valued 133rd was being used by Campbell as a carrot to attract an infantry battalion to Maine, LePage called reporter Matt Byrne, identified himself as “the Commander in Chief of the Maine Guard” and asked for the name of our source.
Byrne refused to tell him, at which point LePage said, “Well, it didn’t come from the Maine Guard.”
Then, classy as ever, the governor hung up, later appearing on WCSH to denounce the story as a “political ploy” by Democratic U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree.
Not true, Governor. As the person who first received the confidential tip, let me assure you that it did not come from Maine’s congressional delegation.
Around the same time, Campbell (who was in Saudi Arabia at the time) dashed off an email to the congressional delegation in which he said it’s “highly likely” the Maine Guard will add an infantry unit in exchange for the engineers.
Campbell also told the delegation that the plan has been in the works since as far back as 2008 and that his predecessor, now-retired Brig. Gen. William Libby, “continues to think it is the right thing to do for the state.”
Again, not exactly in lockstep with the truth.
Retired Col. John Jansen commanded the 133rd during its deployment to Iraq in 2004-2005 and later served as Libby’s chief of staff before retiring upon Campbell’s arrival in 2012. In an email last week, Jansen described the maneuvering by Campbell and his chief of staff, Col. Jack Mosher, as “despicable.”
Jansen led the strategic planning effort to which Campbell now refers. And while more infantry was “on the list of units we would be interested in,” Jansen wrote, “it was never an option to bring them to the state at a cost of the engineers.”
In fact, in the Maine Guard’s 2008 “State of the State” PowerPoint presentation, a “Desired Force Structure” for 2020 shows the 133rd still front-and-center among Maine’s Guard units.
Finally, there’s LePage’s insistence to WCSH last week that any decision regarding the 133rd’s future is at least “two or three years” away.
Oh, really? Then why, in a meeting with the Maine Guard’s senior staff last week, did Chief of Staff Col. Mosher throw a slide up on the screen that showed the 133rd’s assets signed, sealed and shipped out of state by the summer of 2015?
Translation: Campbell, just like his boss, appears to be playing fast and loose with the facts in order to achieve his widely known dream of a Maine Guard that looks a lot more like G.I. Joe than a combat engineer.
That may make Campbell, who came up through the infantry, feel all tingly inside. But as a matter of public policy, any state that willingly gives up a mutli-talented engineer unit in this new era of military downsizing has to have a screw loose.
“I read in the papers that the current Maine National Guard leadership is trying to create an argument that Maine would be better off with Infantry … during state emergencies,” Jansen wrote. “My first reaction is, ‘What kind of drugs are they taking!’ I cannot imagine how they can create this argument with a straight face.”
Nor can Jansen, who led the 133rd through its darkest days when three of its soldiers died from enemy fire in Mosul, Iraq, sit by idly while his old battalion, now serving in harm’s way in Afghanistan, is reduced to so much trade bait.
“To execute this plan while the 133rd is currently deployed is even more egregious,” Jansen wrote. “This move is not good for the soldiers … the communities that benefit from their training projects, and the entire State during an emergency when the engineers become the main effort.”
LePage, caught between calling all of this a “fabrication” Friday in a damage-control interview with the Bangor Daily News and scrambling to catch up with an out-of-nowhere crisis he needs like a hole in the head, at least appears to agree that the 133rd is indeed worth keeping around.
LePage told the Bangor newspaper the whole thing is being “blown out of proportion” and that he will now fight to prevent the 133rd from going anywhere.
“The general (Campbell) is doing his job, and he’s looking into all options, but there’s nothing there,” LePage told the newspaper. “I make the final decision, and I’m telling you, there’s nothing there.”
Baloney. With or without LePage’s full knowledge, Campbell has been hard at work throwing the engineers under a bus and, upon being caught at the National Guard swap shop, falsely implying that he inherited this plan from his predecessors.
“I think the current Maine Army National Guard leadership, because of their arrogance, underestimated the reaction this swap would cause, and just figured they would make it happen,” Jansen wrote.
Harsh commentary indeed from a man who, when I embedded with the 133rd under his command in 2004, always chose his words carefully.
But even in his agitated state, Jansen has one tactical advantage over the Maine Guard’s new adjutant general and the governor who now fancies the title “Commander in Chief.”
Jansen, a soldier’s soldier if ever there was one, is telling nothing but the truth.
Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: