AUGUSTA, Maine — In an interview Friday, Gov. Paul LePage said reports that the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion would be relocated to Pennsylvania had been “blown out of proportion.”
As commander in chief of the state’s National Guard, LePage said he would fight to keep the 500-member battalion in the Pine Tree State. He also expressed confidence in Brig. Gen. James Campbell, the adjutant general of the Maine National Guard.
“The general is doing his job, and he’s looking into all options, but there’s nothing there,” LePage said. “I make the final decision, and I’m telling you, there’s nothing there.”
Congressional staffers for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, were briefed Tuesday by Maine Army National Guard Col. Jack Mosher, who allegedly said a plan had been floated to save money by consolidating Army Guard units nationwide.
Under the plan, engineer units in Pennsylvania and Texas would be dissolved. The 133rd would be relocated to Pennsylvania and replaced in Maine with an infantry battalion. If the restructuring proposal goes forward, the 133rd would be moved to Pennsylvania sometime between 2017 and 2019, said Pingree spokesman Willy Ritch.
Reports of potential changes or downsizing of Maine’s Army National Guard are not new. In March, Campbell told lawmakers during his annual address to the Legislature that efforts in Washington, D.C., could result in changes to the Maine Army National Guard.
Some powerful figures in the Pentagon were attempting to use the current fiscal climate in the capital to force downsizing of the National Guard. During closed-door meetings, Campbell said, senior leaders in the active Army were attempting to convince the National Guard to “unnecessarily cut its program.”
Said Campbell: “If these plans are allowed to pass, our current Maine Army National Guard of 2,122 soldiers — already reduced by more than 500 soldiers since 2007 — will potentially be reduced by another 200.”
Campbell said that would be the smallest National Guard contingent since Maine was granted statehood in 1820.
LePage also suggested Friday that reports intimating that Maine was losing its 133rd Battalion were political in nature.
“It’s a total fabrication,” he said. “It’s a political year.”
Pingree has long been a vocal supporter of the National Guard and has co-sponsored a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to maintain current Guard levels in the wake of proposals in D.C. to draw down the number of military personnel, which would reduce the number of both active Army members and the Guard.
There are 167 members of the 133rd deployed in Afghanistan working to downsize and consolidate bases there as the United States prepares to withdraw its remaining military forces from the country.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.