AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine National Guard Adjutant Gen. James D. Campbell, who was scheduled to address the House and Senate on Tuesday morning, was relieved of duty by Gov. Paul LePage shortly before the scheduled start time of the speech.
“Based on an internal review of Gen. Campbell, I have lost faith in his ability to lead Maine’s soldiers and airmen who serve so proudly in the National Guard,” LePage wrote in a statement. “Effectively immediately, I have relieved him of his command.”
Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, said the internal review had been happening for some time, but she did not say who conducted it. She said the decision to fire Campbell came Tuesday morning and that the administration would not elaborate further on the rationale or timing.
Campbell said by phone Tuesday that he has worked tirelessly as adjutant general to keep as many Mainers as possible in uniform and was completely surprised by LePage’s decision.
“The governor has made a decision, and I wish the best of success for whoever my replacement is,” Campbell said. “I hope [he or she] is given the same level of support that I’ve received.”
“I can’t say enough” about the support given by those who work in the Maine National Guard, Campbell said.
Campbell has headed the Maine National Guard since Aug. 11, 2012. He was scheduled to deliver the State of the Guard speech to lawmakers at 11 a.m. Tuesday, but legislative leaders canceled the joint session upon learning of Campbell’s dismissal.
As part of Campbell’s planned speech to the Legislature, several members of the Maine National Guard were to be commended with various honors. Those people, along with dozens of their families and friends, had gathered in the House gallery in anticipation of the event but left disappointed.
William “Chick” Ciciotte of Topsham, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and legislative chairman for Maine’s American Legion, said he was at the State House on Tuesday. Ciciotte was in the Senate chamber when someone told him the news.
“They told me that the governor read Gen. Campbell’s speech and there were things in the speech that the governor didn’t like,” said Ciciotte. “The general is well-respected among the veterans in the state of Maine. He works with us and has been a big help. We don’t understand, but you can’t speculate until we find out what the governor was thinking about.”
Peter Miesburger of Caribou also is an Air Force veteran and is involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He said he received a phone call about Campbell’s ouster Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m shocked,” said Miesburger. “Here he was, the top dog getting ready to address the House and Senate and then, bingo, something like this happens. It’s an embarrassment to the state of Maine. … Something drastic had to happen for him to be relieved.”
Miesburger said news of Tuesday’s events would “spread like wildfire” across the country.
“It’s going to hurt morale,” he said. “There’s going to be a culture shock that goes from the top dog all the way down to a lowly private. The Guard’s going to have to get down and bring that morale back up.”
Miesburger questioned the timing of the announcement.
“Here were all these Guardspeople waiting to receive their awards and then something like this happened,” said Miesburger. “It was the wrong timing.”
Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, House chairman of the Legislature’s Veterans Committee, whose jurisdiction includes the Maine National Guard, said in an interview Tuesday that he was surprised to hear of Campbell’s ouster.
“I’m still trying to figure out, exactly, the details of what happened,” Luchini said. “He’s always been good, in my dealings with him.”
Assistant House Republican Leader Ellie Espling of New Gloucester also said lawmakers don’t know why LePage fired Campbell.
“Gov. LePage is the commander-in-chief of the Maine National Guard, and at the end of the day, this is his decision to make,” said Espling in a written statement. “We do not know the details that led the governor to make this decision. We reserve all judgment and any further comment until these details come to light.”
Members of the Legislature’s bipartisan veteran’s caucus, which is co-chaired by Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, and Rep. Sheldon Hanington, R-Lincoln, said in a written statement Tuesday that they are “profoundly concerned’ about LePage’s decision to change the leadership of the Guard.
“Today is National Guard Day at the State House, a day that drew many men and women in uniform to our capital,” they said in a joint statement. “It is a time to honor the National Guard, all our servicemen and servicewomen and all our veterans. We, as the Veteran’s Caucus, salute them for their service and their achievements.”
LePage has named Brig. Gen. Gerard F. Bolduc as acting adjutant general and commissioner of the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management — a post Campbell also held. Bolduc was most recently in command of the Maine Air National Guard.
LePage administered the oath of office to Bolduc in the governor’s office on Tuesday morning.
Campbell was recently the center of controversy when plans to transform Maine’s historic 133rd Engineer Battalion into an infantry unit were made public. At that time, LePage stood by the adjutant general, who said the move was necessary to maintain Guard levels in Maine despite the shifting needs of the Guard nationally.