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Maine Fighting Army National Guard Reduction Plan

AUGUSTA, Maine - The head of the Maine Army National Guard is speaking out in opposition to a Pentagon plan that would reduce the size of the Guard, in order to maintain more regular Army units. Maine Adjutant Gen. James Campbell has the support of Gov. Paul LePage.

Maine, like other states, has two National Guard components: the Army Guard and the Air Force Guard. And the Pentagon treats them differently. The Army wants to reduce the Army National Guard in favor of more regular Army units, while the Air Force considers its Guard units as an integral part of its force structure.

Maine Adjutant Gen. James Campbell says state Guard leaders across the country are unified in opposing the Army budget initiative, which would reduce the force nationally by just over 8,000 in the 2016 budget.

"It’s an anomaly in our historical experience that we would reduce the National Guard this dramatically after a war," Campbell says. "It just doesn’t make financial sense for the nation. You can go back all the way to the founding documents of the country and people like James Madison saying we can’t afford a large standing army."

Campbell says the impact on Maine is about two dozen positions, but that could escalate dramatically in the following years under the multi-year reductions that Army leadership has proposed. He says instead of being cut, the Army Guard's strength should be increased.

Campbell says it's simple economics:  A regular Army battalion costs as much a year to operate as three National Guard battalions. "The reason for this is not about protecting the Guard - we are not just trying to protect our own rice bowl here," Campbell says. "We think this is in the best interest of the nation, we really do."

Republican Gov. Paul LePage says governors across the country are unified in their opposition to the Army downsizing plan. LePage has joined in a lobbying effort that includes letters to military leaders, and to the congressional delegations of the various states. He says the immediate task is to stop any effort at downsizing until a congressionally mandated commission can do its work and report a year from now on force structure.

"It’s really sort of, sort of a first - first attempt at negotiating," he says. "It’s just like, he who puts the first negotiating on the table, it’s the bar that everybody reaches for."

Maine’s two U.S. senators will play a crucial role in the battle to preserve Guard strength. Sen. Angus King serves on the Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins sits on the Appropriations Committee. LePage says he will be pushing for an increase in the overall size of the Guard and an increase in Maine’s forces.

"I just think cutting us from where we are now is inappropriate because we are undermanned for the size of our state," LePage says.

He says Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont combined have about 7,000 members, while Puerto Rico alone has 8,000 members. Maine currently has 3,200 Guard members. The debate will take place in congressional hearings and floor action over the months ahead.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.