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Maine's engineer battalion headed to Pennsylvania

Apr. 30, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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PORTLAND, MAINE — The National Guard will reassign the Maine National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion to Pennsylvania, replacing it with an infantry unit, under a plan that’s in the final stages.

Introducing an infantry to Maine’s Army National Guard has been part of the statewide plan since 2008, 133rd Engineer Battalion spokesman Michel Steinbuchel told the Portland Press Herald.

The reorganization would dissolve the state’s largest unit and reduce the overall number of soldiers, but Steinbuchel said he did not know by how many. About 2,100 soldiers serve in the Maine National Guard.

There are 160 soldiers in the 133rd Engineer Battalion, and Steinbuchel said 120 engineer-capable soldiers would remain, enough to address needs during emergencies or natural disasters.

If the reorganization is completed, the shift could occur between 2017 and 2019, said Willy Ritch, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree. Maine’s National Guard unit would be one of at least three to be dissolved as part of a wide-ranging reduction of the military after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

Under the plan, Maine would lose a battalion that handles engineering and construction duties following severe storms, flooding and other natural disasters and combines training for soldiers with community service to build school athletic facilities, youth camps, nature trails, rural fairgrounds and other projects.

Soldiers from the 133rd deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and participated in relief operations after Hurricanes Katrina on the Gulf Coast and Irene in Vermont and Superstorm Sandy in Connecticut.

Steinbuchel said the infantry will be a more versatile, agile force, whereas engineers needed heavier, slower equipment.

“When the governor calls for state-supported civil authority, the majority of that support in terms of heavy engineering equipment is rarely used extensively,” he said. “A more flexible general-purpose unit, they tend to be more useful.”

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