There have been several articles in our newspapers in recent weeks regarding Maine’s possible loss of the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion. As a former assistant adjutant general for air with the Maine Air National Guard and current civilian aide to the secretary of the Army for the state of Maine, I would like to add a couple of thoughts that should be considered as we evaluate this situation.
First, the Guard has a dual mission: federal and state.
The federal portion pays for over 90 percent of the Maine Guard’s total budget. For this major contribution to the Maine Guard’s budget, the federal government expects the Guard to serve in a much needed reserve status to supplement the regular Army in times of need, as has been seen during conflicts in the Middle East. The Guard has played a crucial role in support of the regular army’s conflict there.
The state of Maine benefits in many ways by having the Maine Guard here, ready to assist if the occasion arises, such as during recent ice storm and flood situations. It also provides several thousand paying job opportunities.
Maine is fortunate to have the Guard in our state, but this would not be possible without the financial support we receive from the federal government.
During this period of serious budget reductions at the national level, the Defense Department is forced to make substantial reductions in its budget. The regular Army will be directed to cut its total forces substantially and will therefore pare down the makeup of its units to more lighter duty infantry and special operation forces, which the current national situation requires.
The Guard, in its status as a principle reserve unit, will need to pattern itself similarly. The units retained by the National Guard Bureau will be those that can fit this need. Fortunately, Adjutant General for Maine James Campbell and his staff are on top of this and, hopefully, will be able to fit the Maine units into whatever mold the National Guard needs.
In late June, I will be traveling to Fort Lewis, Washington, to meet with Army Secretary John McHugh and convey to him that Maine can readily fit into whatever status the Army needs. At the same time I will point out the excellent work our Engineer Battalion did when that was the country’s emphasis. If more engineering capability is needed, we can continue to provide it. But if it is not, we can readily retrain to meet the current need.
When I served in the Air National Guard a few years ago, it was a highly respected Fighter Interceptor Wing. When that need changed — in order to maintain a Guard presence — we transitioned to an Air Refueling Wing. This was a difficult change for many of us, but we went on and became one of the outstanding Air Refueling Wings in the Air Force.
I am certain, given the “Maine Can Do” spirit and Campbell and his staff’s leadership, we will be able to do the same in the current Army National Guard situation.
Ralph Leonard of Old Town is civilian aide to the secretary of the Army for Maine and former assistant adjutant general for the Maine Air National Guard.