AUGUSTA — Maine’s biggest military unit won’t be going to Iraq after all.

Maj. Gen. John W. Libby announced Thursday that the Pentagon has canceled the 133rd Engineer Battalion’s year-long deployment, which was scheduled to begin in early March 2010.

The move came as a result of new Defense Department goals that aim to pull back in Iraq and surge in Afghanistan. Nationwide, 30 units were targeted for new missions. For 10 days, Libby and his staff considered taking on a new mission in Afghanistan, a move that would have shifted the unit from its traditional job of building roads and buildings to constructing bridges, clearing routes of explosives and fighting as infantry.

Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, told Washington that his people were not trained for those jobs.

“For 18 months, we hadn’t been practicing those skill sets,” Libby said. “So I’d be putting a team into a fight for things they hadn’t been trained for.”

An hour later, the stand-down order came back.

The Unit’s 500 soldiers began hearing the news on Wednesday.

“From my perspective, I was relieved,” Libby said. However, he figured that each of the unit’s 500 soldiers carried some measure of disappointment after a year and a half of preparation.

Capt. Lisa Snow said her people were torn between happiness and disappointment. A Norway native, Snow leads the 136th engineer company, part of the battalion that drills in Lewiston and Skowhegan.

When the 133rd’s commander, Lt. Col. Norm Michaud, gave her the news, Snow thought he was joking.

“He kind of dead-panned and said, ‘I’d never joke about something so serious,'” she said. Minutes later, the news continued its journey through the ranks.

Many families are undoubtedly pleased, she said. Yet, some soldiers needed the money that comes with deployment. Some are unemployed. Some are college students who haven’t enrolled because they were planning to leave midway through the spring semester. Some, like Snow, planned on paying off debt.

There is also the letdown that comes with working hard toward a particular goal, one that will never be accomplished. For 18 months, members of the battalion have been getting ready to go to war.

“You reach a point where you’ve accepted that and look forward to the mission,” Libby said. Soldiers will soon begin unpacking their equipment. Libby plans to talk to schools on behalf of the unenrolled students. Gov. John Baldacci has promised Department of Labor help for soldiers who are otherwise jobless.

Meanwhile, Snow gets to spend her first wedding anniversary with her husband, rather than being thousands of miles away.

“I’m happy about that, and I know he’s happy,” she said.

Spc. Vanessa Sassman of Auburn was able to assure her mother and her brother, Lukas, that she’ll be home for the foreseeable future. In 2007, Lukas Sassman suffered a serious head wound while serving in Iraq. He recovered and the family survived the ordeal. But they were a little gun-shy.

Because of this week’s decision, Vanessa Sassman is unlikely to go to war for years. Though soldiers will be offered chances to volunteer for service in other units, the 133rd is starting over in its five-year activation cycle, making it eligible for deployment again in late 2014, Libby said.

For some soldiers in the unit, staying home is just fine.

Randy Jones of West Paris had been trying to get his home ready for a long absence while he prepared his family for his year-long absence.

“We’ve been through it before,” said Jones, who served in Iraq when the 133rd was sent there in 2004. The father of six – ages 15 to 25 – was jubilant when the news came down late Wednesday.

That night and the next day were celebrations, he said. “It was the best Christmas present I could have had.”

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