Plans to swap out the Maine National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion have officially been shelved, ending roughly 18 months of uncertainty for one of the state’s most storied military units.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Friday that Maine’s congressional delegation has received assurances from the National Guard Bureau that no Maine units would be altered as part of its recently submitted force restructuring plan.

That news effectively scraps plans put in motion back in early 2014 by former Brig. Gen. James Campbell to swap Maine engineering units for infantry units – a move that ultimately got Campbell fired.

“The proposal to swap the engineer units caused tremendous consternation among members of the 133rd,” Collins said in an interview Friday afternoon. “I was concerned that if units were swapped, the state would lose a valuable first response in times of national disaster.”

Gov. Paul LePage, in a statement, praised the news as well.

“As we’ve said all along, the 133rd Engineer Battalion is staying right here where it belongs,” he said. “Now that the command plan has been finalized, I am confident we can move forward with a clear path for the future of the Maine National Guard.”

The 133rd and its companies have been called up to assist during overseas combat, including three times since Sept. 11. In peacetime, however, the units handle vital engineering and construction duties during civil emergencies such as severe storms, flooding and other natural disasters. The battalion also historically has combined training for soldiers with community service to build school athletic facilities, youth camps, nature trails, municipal sand and salt sheds, rural fairgrounds and other projects.

Campbell, whose military history was rooted in infantry, had sought a way to increase Maine’s infantry capabilities since he was appointed by LePage. Beginning in the spring of 2014, when the Press Herald first learned of a proposed swap, Campbell said repeatedly that his proposal was being forced upon the state by proposed cuts at the federal level being debated by the Obama administration and Congress.

However, emails obtained by the Press Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request in March revealed that Campbell misled the public and his boss, Gov. Paul LePage, about his intentions regarding the 133rd and that he initiated his plans independent of any federal budget considerations.

Emails also showed that Campbell failed to acknowledge publicly, or to LePage, that Maine – along with all other states with international borders – was never at risk of losing its engineers under a federal proposal to reduce National Guard forces nationwide.

After LePage learned of the Press Herald’s FOIA request and reviewed the documents, he fired Campbell – on the same day the general was scheduled to address a joint session of the Maine Legislature.

In an interview with the Press Herald 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.

Even though Campbell was ousted and LePage pledged to undo the proposed unit swap, concern remained about whether the plans were too far down the road to be undone. The transition of some units within the 133rd already had received preliminary approval.

“That was definitely the worry of guard members, concern that maybe the die was cast and that it wouldn’t be possible to roll back the tentative plan, which was pretty far along,” Collins said.

The 133rd Engineer Battalion is made up of six individual companies and about 570 soldiers scattered across the state. That’s more than one-quarter of all Maine guardsmen and women.

Under the now-shelved plan, Maine would have created the 1st Battalion, 103rd Infantry Regiment, which would be made up of the 488th Military Police Company in Waterville, Bravo Company, the 172nd Mountain Infantry unit based in Brewer, and four companies of the 133rd – the 136th Engineer Company in Skowhegan and Lewiston, the 251st Engineer Company of Norway, and the Forward Support Company and Headquarters Company, both based in Augusta.

Maine would have lost three smaller units under the plan – a contract team, a public affairs department and a survey and design team.

Interim Brig. Gen. Gerard Bolduc, who was appointed to succeed Campbell, had said he would do everything he could to have the engineering unit and even traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with top Guard officials this spring.

Collins praised Bolduc for working to keep the unit intact. She said she learned the good news on Oct. 23 during a meeting with the director of the Army National Guard. No Maine units would be shifted as part of the Guard’s force structure plan.

“The 133rd Engineering Battalion is a vital asset to Maine, and I am relieved it will remain in the state,” U.S. Sen. Angus King said in a statement. “During my time as Governor, I relied on the 133rd many times, most significantly in the aftermath of the Ice Storm of 1998. The battalion’s skill, professionalism, and versatility unquestionably saved lives then, and, it continues its important work today, supporting various missions in Maine and throughout New England. ”

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree added: “I’ve been opposed to swapping them for a combat battalion from another state and am glad the National Guard Bureau has agreed that it’s a bad idea.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.