AUGUSTA, Maine — It’s been a whirlwind four days for Brig. Gen. Gerard Bolduc.
The man who was named interim chief of the Maine National Guard on Tuesday has been thrust into the center of a controversial plan to reshape the guard, which cost his predecessor his job on Tuesday after strong opposition and criticism from Gov. Paul LePage.
LePage gave the post to Bolduc on an interim basis after suddenly firing Adjutant Gen. James Campbell, shortly before the general was scheduled to give an annual address to the Legislature. Now, as adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, Bolduc is also acting as commissioner of Maine’s Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management.
It’s a lot to take on. “I’ve been drinking by a fire hose,” Bolduc told reporters Friday during his first public interview. “I’m learning a lot, but there’s a lot going on.”
It didn’t take long for the new job to challenge him.
On Friday, the Maine National Guard announced the cancellation of the planned 2016 deployment of Maine’s 136th Engineer Company — part of the 133rd Engineer Battalion, the state’s largest and oldest unit — to Kuwait. The National Guard in Washington made that call on Wednesday, the day after Campbell’s firing. A guard spokesman called the timing coincidental.
The reason for the cancellation, the guard said, was the planned transformation of the company to an infantry unit.
That’s part of the plan promoted by Campbell to transition nearly the entire 133rd for infantry purposes, a move Campbell said was necessary thanks to planned reductions in military forces nationwide.
The canceled deployment indicates the National Guard Bureau is moving forward with Campbell’s plan despite LePage’s insistence that the transition scheme is a “dead issue.”
That could set up a fight between LePage and Bolduc on one side and the NGB, which military experts say holds ultimate authority over the structure of the Maine National Guard, on the other.
Retired Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniel of the Michigan National Guard is a former U.S. Homeland Security official and current professor of homeland security and constitutional law at Western Michigan University. He said that in the event of a disagreement between the bureau and the state, the state would likely lose.
The National Guard Bureau is “the facilitator between the states and big Army,” McDaniel said. “They’d like for everyone to be on the same page, but there’s no question that on force structure questions, that if the question is who wins, it’s big Army.”
Bolduc said he’s confident a suitable compromise can be reached. The bureau is “aware [of the governor’s position], and they are working with us,” he said.
“I’ve been in constant contact with the governor’s office and the National Guard Bureau, and we are working this diligently. Believe me,” Bolduc said. “It’s a little too early to say with certainty, but I’m confident that it will be a win-win situation for all.”
Bolduc said he believed a final decision about the 133rd was forthcoming, though he didn’t say exactly when he expected it. A spokesman for the National Guard Bureau said Friday that a “total Army analysis” was ongoing and that no final decision about restructuring had yet been made, though one is expected this summer.
Before taking over for Campbell, Bolduc was the assistant adjutant general for the Maine Air National Guard, where he was responsible for the command, control and operations of plans and programs affecting more than 1,100 personnel.
Bolduc was originally assigned to Bangor Air National Guard Base in 1983. Over the following decades as a master navigator, he racked up more than 3,300 flight hours and ascended in the guard, achieving the rank of brigadier general in 2013.
With the mystery surrounding the fate of the 133rd Engineer Battalion and Campbell’s sudden ouster Tuesday, members of the Maine National Guard — both Army and Air — have been subject to tremendous uncertainty. Bolduc pledged Friday to be transparent with the public, and with the men and women in the guard.
“I think there’s a sense of relief for them that at least something is happening in regard to a decision about the 133rd,” he said. “They’re relieved to hear that. They deserve to know what the truth is, what is going on.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.