AUGUSTA, Maine — West Point graduate and longtime Maine Army National Guard leader Lt. Col. Michael Backus, the Guard’s current operations branch chief, has died.
“Lt. Col. Michael J. Backus of Wilton died unexpectedly on Monday … while performing his duties at Camp Keyes in Augusta,” Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, spokesman for the Maine National Guard, said Tuesday in a statement. “The cause of his death is still under investigation.”
Backus, who was 44, is survived by his wife and three sons. Steinbuchel said he and other co-workers are still in shock, especially since Backus was the “picture of health.”
“I don’t think there was a guy at Camp Keyes who didn’t go home [on Monday] and hug and kiss his wife,” the major said.
“We are shocked and saddened by the unexpected loss of Lt. Col. Backus,” Brigadier Gen. James D. Campbell, the Adjutant General of the Maine National Guard said Tuesday in a statement. “Mike was a longstanding career officer who served professionally in a number of key assignments and served the country and state well. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
Backus graduated from Mt. Blue High School in 1986 and from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1990.
After West Point, Backus “was selected to attend flight school, where he trained and served as an Apache helicopter pilot,” Steinbuchel said. “Backus joined the Maine Army National Guard in 2001, where he qualified as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot.”
He flew medevac helicopters with the 112th Medical Company in 2003 while the unit was deployed to Iraq. Upon his return stateside, “Backus was handpicked to help establish the National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program in Maine, beginning our ongoing relationship with the country of Montenegro,” Steinbuchel said.
Backus also held several high-profile military roles over the years, including serving as director of public affairs for the Maine National Guard before becoming the executive officer of the Guard’s 52nd Troop Command in Bangor in 2008. In February 2009, he became the recruiting and retention battalion commander for the Guard and in May 2012 was promoted to operations branch chief.
“In my world, those are ‘You made it’-type jobs,” Steinbuchel said.
In November, Backus gave a speech in his hometown of Wilton about what Veterans Day means. He will be missed by all who knew him, Steinbuchel said.
“Mike was a top-notch guy,” the major said. “I never met a person who didn’t like him. He was always making you laugh and feel at ease.”
Details about his funeral services are still pending.