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Maine National Guard Head: Changes Coming

Mal Leary
Adj. Gen. James Campbell, left, and Gov. Paul LePage discuss the future of the Maine National Guard at an Augusta news briefing.

Hoping to put all questions about the future of Maine's National Guard - as he put it - "To bed," Gov. Paul LePage called a press conference with Adj. Gen. James Campbell to discuss what's known and not known about a much larger restructuring of the U.S. military. LePage says the issue is being studied by a panel, and the media coverage in recent weeks of the possible loss of the 133rd Engineer Battalion has been well ahead of itself. But Campbell repeated his prediction that Maine will be targeted for change by top brass.

With the changing nature of wars America has fought, Maine's adjutant general, James Campbell, says Maine's National Guard will have to change. He says almost all of the funding for the guard comes from the federal government, and he has been ordered to develop alternatives to Maine's existing force, comprised mostly of engineers, at a time when the demand is for more infantry units.

"We are formed and funded and trained and maintained to be the combat reserve of the Army and Air Force," Campbell said. "So the Army and Air Force are the ones who decide what their combat reserves will look like."

Campbell says that is why he has said in email communications that it's likely the reorganization will go forward regardless of whether funding cuts occur. Both he and Gov. LePage say they want to avoid losing any National Guard jobs in Maine and would rather see growth.

"If there are going to be cuts, we don't want to be cut, so if there is some availability of growing or replacing, we go after those," LePage said.

"We don't want to lose jobs. And so, we don't want to do this, we're not going to volunteer for it," Campbell said. "What we have said to the National Guard is, if the worst case happens, we would rather convert a unit than have it eliminated entirely."

Campbell also points out that the Air Guard in Maine may benefit from the restructuring that is being proposed by military leaders.

"And you have to also remember that the National Guard is the Air Guard. And if you look at the debate going on in the Air Force it is a similar thing," Campbell said. "We have been very successful in Maine. We haven't lost anything, and we are not projected to lose anything on the Air Force side. In fact, we may grow a little bit, we think."

And Campbell acknowledged that he did not make his position as clear as he should have in an email to members of the state's congressional delegation, reiterating that he and the governor oppose the exchange of the 133rd Engineer Battalion for an infantry battalion. He says it is his belief that will be likely because of what he has been hearing from military leaders in Washington.

"If there is a misinterpretation of some of the things that have come out, I take responsibility for that," he said, "but I don't need to apologize for it, because we have been on record about this for a long time. And I think my soldiers and my staff understand very clearly what is happening."

Both Campbell and the governor stress that the timeline for decision from the Pentagon will be in several years, possibly not until after 2016, when a commission to study the Army structure would make its report.

That commission has been approved in the U.S. House and Senate at the committee level, but has yet to become law, let alone the commission members named.

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