AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Army National Guard leaders may soon learn the fate of a controversial plan to turn the state’s 133rd Engineer Battalion into an infantry regiment, the revelation of which earlier this year cost the former state guard leader his job.
The U.S. Army’s command plan for fiscal year 2017, which is expected to cut thousands of soldiers from active duty, Reserve and National Guard forces, should be formally approved in draft form by the end of June, Maj. Earl Brown, spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, said Thursday via email from Arlington, Virginia.
The draft plan will include how Maine and 53 other states and territories and the District of Columbia will be affected by the projected reductions in forces, and it will finally answer the question about whether Maine will keep the engineers.
The state’s National Guard chief, Brig. Gen. Gerard Bolduc, gave a speech to the American Legion on June 20 saying that National Guard Bureau leaders “know what the engineers mean to the state, and they’ll do whatever they can to work with us on keeping them. But we have no final answers.”
“We’re just waiting,” Bolduc said this week. ”We’re just waiting now for the word.”
After the draft Army command plan is formally approved this month, it will go forward for final approval later this summer and would go into effect on Oct. 1, 2016, Brown said. The year duration between the final approval and implementation allows time for the transition.
“It won’t be immediate,” Bolduc said of any changes that come, adding that the multi-year force structure process that began in 2013 will provide Maine military leaders with time to prepare.
Bolduc replaced Brig. Gen. James Campbell, who was fired by Gov. Paul LePage in March over how the proposal, which caused significant uproar, was initiated.
The original transition plan would have taken several existing units from the Maine Guard to create a new 1st Battalion, 103rd Infantry Regiment. Members for the new regiment would have come from the 488th Military Police Company in Waterville; Bravo Company, 172nd Mountain Infantry unit based in Brewer; and four units from the 560-person strong 133rd — the 136th Engineer Company in Skowhegan and Lewiston, the 251st Engineer Company of Norway, and the Forward Support Company and Headquarters Company, both based in Augusta.
Discontinued units under that original proposal included the 1035th Survey and Design Team of Portland, the 1968th Contingency Contracting Team and the 121st Public Affairs Department, both based in Augusta.
The state would have retained two engineer companies — the 262nd Engineer Company based in Westbrook and the 185th Engineer Support Company from Caribou — if the 133rd to 103rd transition took place as outlined under Campbell’s plan.
When Maine Army Guard leaders learned that 200-plus jobs out of the state’s 2,100-member force might be lost with national force restructuring, they started drafting the proposal to convert the engineers into an infantry battalion, which would have resulted in only about 20 Maine Guard jobs lost, Campbell and other Maine Guard officials have said.
Bolduc, who went to Arlington to talk with National Guard Bureau leaders earlier this year, declined to discuss which specific guard units were still the subject of negotiation.
“No, no, no. I don’t want to get into that,” he said.
Bolduc said Monday that while he doesn’t know for sure how many jobs will be lost, if any, he wanted to assure Maine soldiers that if they want, they will have a position.
“We could do some by attrition, it all depends on what the decisions are,” he said.
The original transformation plan, which Campbell formulated and submitted to National Guard leaders in Arlington, received preliminary approval at the federal level in January and led to a cancelled deployment for one unit within the 133rd in March.
“I would characterize the deployment cancellation as a prudent measure because a force structure change was under consideration/review,” Rick Breitenfeldt, another Army Guard Bureau spokesman based in Arlington, said this week by email.
The Army National Guard force structure changes occur in concert with broader Army force structure management, which is called Total Army Analysis, or TAA.
“All the changes to [Army National Guard] Force Structure, including potential impacts on the Maine [Army National Guard], remain under consideration as the Army refines and finalizes their plans,” Breitenfeldt said.
That process, which will need to be authorized by Congress, will determine the types and quantity of units for the entire Army, including the Guard and Reserves, Capt. Norman Stickney said Wednesday in an email.
“This plan will contain the details for the unit moves, transitions, activations and deactivations,” Stickney said. “Each state works with the [National Guard Bureau] on its desired capabilities, however, the end goal is that the National Guard has rebalanced its capabilities throughout all 54 states and territories.”
While the draft Army command plan will be approved formally this month at the federal level, the effect on Maine’s Guard will not be released publicly until it is finalized in September.
“Until the Army releases their TAA decision, there is nothing more that we can provide,” Brown said.
No matter what happens, there will be jobs in Maine for soldiers who want them, the Maine Guard spokesman said.
“If changes to force structure are issued in the command plan, all current serving soldiers will continue to be afforded the opportunity to serve a rewarding career in the National Guard,” Stickney said.