BANGOR, Maine — Two former adjutant generals who commanded the Maine National Guard and a former assistant adjutant general say change within the state’s militia is a process that can take years, and it’s always emotional and controversial.

The contentious possible transition of portions of the state’s 133rd Engineer Battalion into the 1st Battalion, 103rd Infantry Regiment is the most recent example of the strife that comes with such change, according to the retired military leaders.

The proposed force structure transition is why Maine’s newly appointed Guard chief, Brig. Gen. Gerard Bolduc, who was appointed interim adjutant general on March 24 after his predecessor was abruptly fired, went to Arlington, Virginia, on Wednesday to meet with National Guard Bureau officials.

Bolduc said before he went that “the Maine National Guard supports the 133rd Engineering Battalion … thus the reason for the visit,” and after he returned to Maine Wednesday night, he said that it was “a first step in negotiations.”

While Bolduc negotiates to keep the approximately 560-member 133rd in Maine, three of his predecessors recall two previous transitions in the state that caused their own ripples — one that changed the 103rd into the 133rd almost 45 years ago, the other that transformed the Maine Air Guard’s 101st fighter wing to a refueling wing six years later.

Bangor City Council chairman Nelson Durgin, a former Maine Adjutant General under Gov. John McKernan between 1991 and 1995, said that military leaders were happy when the 103rd changed into the 133rd in November 1970, but the men in uniform were upset.

“It was a popular move on the part of the administration in the state. It wasn’t really popular with the infantry folks in the military,” said Durgin, who joined the Air Guard in the early 1960s and moved to Bangor in 1967 when he became comptroller for the Maine Air National Guard. “There were pros and cons. It seems to be a positive move because it did offer more opportunities for young men and women to get involved.”

Retired Maj. Gen. Earl Adams of Chelsea was stationed in Aroostook County with the 1st Battalion, 152nd Field Artillery in 1970, when the engineer battalion expanded in Maine.

“When that happened Gen. Ed Hayward was the Adjutant General and his operations officer was Col. Hal Stevens,” Adams said. “They were the ones pushing to change over to engineers. I remember having some conversations with Col. Stevens, who spent a lot of time with the National Guard Bureau to get that force structure change.”

“They worked a long time to get those units in Maine,” Adams, who was the state’s adjutant general under Gov. Angus King between 1995 and 2000, said later.

Hayward and Stevens wanted the change “for most of the same reasons a lot of us want to see it stay now — for the young people,” Adams said. “Young people will join that engineering unit and go to school to become a bulldozer operator, a carpenter, electrician — there are just so many skills, [that can lead to] getting a good job in the civilian sector.”

The 1970 transition created the 133rd Engineer Battalion, which also included the 262nd Combat Engineers headquartered in Bangor and the 240th Engineer Group Headquarters, which was “a senior headquarters company capable of commanding a number of engineering battalions,” Adams recalled.

The current transition plan would create a new 103rd Infantry Regiment from the 488th Military Police Company in Waterville, the Brewer-based 172nd Mountain Infantry, and four units from the 133rd — the 136th Engineer Company in Skowhegan and Lewiston, the 251st Engineering Company of Norway, and the Forward Support Company and Headquarters Company, both based in Augusta.

Discontinued units under the current plan include 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 still retain two engineer companies — the 262nd Engineer Company based in Westbrook and the 185th Engineering Support Company from Caribou — if the 133rd to 103rd transition takes place.

Ralph Leonard of Old Town, a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army for the state of Maine and former assistant adjutant general in the Maine Air Guard, said when news broke in the spring of 2014 about the possible change from engineers to infantry, he had knowledge “that there was going to be pretty serious cutbacks from the Army and National Guard.”

“I knew about the reduction in the force. We had been briefed on that,” he said.

While Gov. Paul LePage has pledged to keep the 133rd in Maine, the decision may be out of his hands, said Leonard, who served a total of 27 years with the U.S. Air Force and Maine Air Guard, his last year, 1984, as assistant adjutant general.

“The governor can give his opinion on what he wants to occur … but look at who’s paying 90 percent of the bill,” Leonard said. “The federal government pays for over 90 percent of the Maine Guard’s total budget. Our primary mission is to support the Army, so obviously we’ve got to have units that will be a support to the national force. The other mission of the Guard is the state mission to take care of emergencies.”

Both the 103rd and 133rd have roots in Maine predating statehood, going back more than 200 years, the Maine Army National Guard website states.

“There has always been a history of the 103rd here,” Durgin said. “The infantry and the artillery were the two basic Guard units based in Maine.”

That changed over the years with the advent of aircraft and the needs of the national military, Leonard said, noting an uproar occurred when the Bangor-based 101st transitioned from a fighter interceptor wing to an aerial refueling unit in July 1976. The 101st Air Refueling Wing is now considered a vital part of the nation’s military capability.

“In the late ’70s we had a group of fighter interceptors and the Air Force needed tankers and we made that change,” Leonard said. At that time, “It was fighter pilots versus bombers and it was emotional. It was also practical from the defense department’s viewpoint.”

Because the federal government pays for most of the Maine Guard’s budget, the feds expect the state’s citizen soldiers to be on reserve status to deliver whatever service is needed, Leonard said. If the Guard in Maine does not align with national needs, the possibility of jobs leaving for other states that do align is possible, he said, echoing statements made by Brig. Gen. James Campbell that apparently led to his recent firing by LePage.

Leonard defended Campbell’s reputation, saying, “I know General Campbell is not a liar.”

“I’m sure General Campbell was trying to think ahead of the [force structure] decisions as much as he could with an educated viewpoint on what will happen,” Leonard said.