AUGUSTA, Maine – The specially trained soldiers of the 251st Engineer Company from Norway, who were scheduled to leave for Afghanistan in September to clear explosives, learned Friday that the unit is not deploying.
Brigadier Gen. James D. Campbell, adjutant general of Maine, announced the cancellation of the deployment at Camp Keyes in Augusta. Campbell said the change was a result of President Barack Obama’s order to reduce U.S. military forces in Afghanistan to approximately 30,000 personnel by Oct. 1.
“We had a number of soldiers here from the unit and it was a mixed reaction of relief and slight disappointment,” said Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, Maine Army Guard spokesman, describing the scene at Camp Keyes. “The older soldiers with multiple deployments are relieved. They have an understanding of how long a year is to be away from their wives and family.”
The younger soldiers who have never deployed and who have spent the last year in intensive and elite training showed some disappointment, Steinbuchel said.
“They wanted to deploy and prove themselves, so it’s kind of split along the line,” Steinbuchel said. “We’ve been preparing for this for over a year.
“It’s like training for the Super Bowl and you get eliminated,” he said.
Members of the unit were sent to sniper school, explosive route-clearing courses, Ranger school, and other specialty training to get ready to “essentially, look for bombs,” the major said.
The unit’s job was “trying to find them and properly dispose of them without anyone getting hurt,” Steinbuchel said. “It’s a high-risk job.”
Campbell praised the citizen soldiers for their dedication.
“I am proud of these soldiers and all the members of the Maine National Guard for preparing for these important and very dangerous missions and answering the call to service,” he said. “The readiness level of the 251st Engineer Company has never been higher -– it is and remains one of the premier units in the National Guard.”
He also added, “The high state of professionalism, morale and readiness in this unit should not change, and only increases the Maine National Guard’s ability to support potential missions here at home.”
Two other Maine units set to deploy later this year still have their marching orders, Steinbuchel said.
“We do have some other units in the queue,” he said. “The 133rd Engineering Battalion Headquarters are slotted to deploy [to Afghanistan] in the fall and also … the 1035th Engineering Detachment Survey and Design team, a 14-person unit of land surveyors, is scheduled to go.”
Both units are based in Gardiner and both are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan.