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Vermont National Guard Public Affairs
Maj. Gen. Greg Knight, the state adjutant general, released the Vermont National Guard's legislative update on Feb. 14. Use the links below to skip directly to detailed portions of the update.
It has been another very busy six months since my last legislative update in August 2021. We have successfully continued working a full operational schedule, despite the challenges presented by the COVID pandemic, and have continued our effort to drive positive change in our organization. This legislative update will provide you additional perspective on your Vermont National Guard (VTNG).
My priorities for the VTNG have not changed. They remain focused on: taking care of Soldiers, Airmen and their families; readiness to perform our federal and state missions; and professional development. The VTNG continues to support the State of Vermont’s response to the COVID pandemic with over 120 Guard members working in the Medical Countermeasures Warehouse, assembling and distributing COVID sampling kits, supporting vaccinations, as contact tracers and augmenting hospital staffing shortages in response to the surge associated with the omicron variant.
Operations, Mobilizations & Deployments:
The Vermont Army National Guard (VTARNG) has redeployed about half of its deployed Soldiers from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and U.S. European Command (EUCOM). VTARNG Soldiers played a significant role in the evacuation of Afghan refugees in Kabul during the evacuation and at hubs in EUCOM and CENTCOM. We expect the remaining Soldiers, currently deployed in support of operations in Kosovo, to redeploy in the coming months. Several VTARNG aviation units continue to prepare for deployments in fiscal year 2023. The Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG) 158th Fighter Wing has completed a culminating training exercise leading to the completion of its transition to the F-35. It is now the only operational F-35 Wing in the Air National Guard. We expect the fighter wing to deploy in support of an off-station exercise this spring.
State Partnership Program (SPP):
In October, 2021, the VTNG was selected for a third partner, the Republic of Austria, as part of the State Partnership Program. We are excited about this partnership due to the longstanding relationship with Austria through military mountaineering. The partnership will officially start in fiscal year 2023. In the coming months we will host formal signing ceremonies in both Vermont and Austria as well as hold some unofficial events to begin building the relationship. Our partnerships with North Macedonia and Senegal remain strong and busy.
VTNG Economic Impact:
The VTNG continues to have a significant economic impact to the State of Vermont. In fiscal year 2021, Vermont Soldiers and Airmen have brought over $153M in payroll to Vermont. For this fiscal year the VTARNG has received $18.5M in construction and base services money. We expect another $15M in military construction funds for several congressionally added projects in FY23. Significant among these is a 12,000 sq. ft. Family Readiness Center servicing all Veterans and their families; improvements to the Camp Ethan Allen Training Site Biathlon course; and the construction of a VTARNG Readiness Center in Bennington.
Our biggest challenge remains recruiting and retention. The pandemic continues to make these challenges even greater. It has prevented recruiters from getting into many schools and made face-to-face events much more difficult. I anticipate the Department of Defense vaccination mandate will result in the VTNG losing three percent or more of its assigned strength and may have a chilling effect on retention and recruiting. We have lost 16 Airmen in the training pipeline in addition to losing prospective recruits at the Military Entrance Processing center due to the mandate. To counter the anticipated loss of personnel, I have increased the internal enlistment referral incentive from $500 to $1,000 for CY22. The VTNG is also updating the strategic communications plan to focus on our recruiting and retention effort. The VTARNG recruiting battalion is hiring new recruiters to boost density across the state and collaborating with a local marketing agency to produce VTARNG specific commercials; rather than relying on the national commercials. The VTANG is leading a new effort to work with colleges to educate students on technical careers available in the VTANG as well as the education benefits associated with service.
Organizational Improvement & Diversity:
The Joint Diversity Executive Council (JDEC) has completed a new strategic plan nested with VTNG strategic goals as well as updating its charter. The council continues to participate in regional and national discussions on how to continually improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). The VTNG has continued its deliberate effort to educate leaders, and Guard members on DE&I issues through professional development events. The VTNG continues to address findings and recommendations from the National Guard Bureau organizational assessment through an established working group, making steady progress in updating policies and the conduct of professional development events. We continue to explore additional means to improve VTNG culture and climate. The VTNG has entered into a partnership with The Cohen Network and PTSD Now to address historic shortages in mental health resources available to members. The Cohen Network will provide a tele-health option for VTNG and family members experiencing mental health issues. This will go a long way to overcome the shortfall of mental health providers in Vermont. PTSD Now will train VTNG members in resiliency and suicide prevention programs, who will in turn develop a cadre of trainers within the VTNG, creating a self-sustaining program with proven results in several other states.
The VTNG continues outreach to its members, families and the community through quarterly virtual town hall meetings and monthly “TAG Corner” videos distributed through social media. The engagement through the National Guard and Veterans Caucus has proven very beneficial. VTNG outreach efforts have contributed to enrolling over 100 personnel into the burn pit registry since November – we have more than tripled the number since 2019.
The VTNG continues to serve the state and country in many ways. I am continually amazed by the accomplishments of our Guard as individuals and collectively. While there are many challenges, we continue to make a difference for our state, country and international partners.
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SUMMARY OF LAST SIX MONTHS IN DETAIL:
Operations, Mobilization and Deployment. The VTARNG currently has nearly 450 of the 950 Soldiers still deployed. We retain our capacity to support for Vermont’s state operational needs.
COVID-19 response. The VTNG continues to support the State of Vermont interagency partners as part of the COVID-19 pandemic response.
State Partnership Program (SPP).
VTNG Economic Impact.
Recruiting, Retention and Attrition Management. Recruiting remains a challenge for the VTNG. We are in a competitive environment, and are subject to a very small recruiting demographic. Even so, we have potential to grow the VTNG over time, but still require assistance to do so. I cannot do this alone.
Organizational Improvement and Diversity.
We must continue our focus on recruiting, retaining and promoting women in the VTNG. While we have made progress, and will continue focusing on inclusivity, it remains imperative for us to have more women join. It is also important to note the above mentioned Guard members earned their leadership positions. They were selected because they were the best qualified for the job.
Legislation, Engagement and Communication.