By Don Branum
Vermont National Guard Public Affairs
Vermont National Guard leaders held a virtual town hall March 25 to address residents’ questions and concerns related to the 158th Fighter Wing’s F-35 Lightning II mission and a recent report of a Soldier who has not maintained the standard of conduct expected from members of the Guard.
Maj. Gen. Greg Knight, the state adjutant general, hosted the forum along with Brig. Gen. David Manfredi, the director of joint staff, and Air Force Col. David Shevchik, the 158th Fighter Wing commander.
Knight opened the town hall by directly addressing reports of misconduct that were unearthed by Seven Days reporter Jasper Craven in a story published March 24. Craven’s story highlights the alleged criminal acts of a Soldier who has been in the Guard since 2007.
“The actions described (in Craven’s article) have no place in the Vermont National Guard or the United States military,” Knight said. “Anyone who chooses to behave in such a way does not deserve to serve in the Vermont National Guard, and I will do everything in my authority to ensure that when I have information of such behavior, I will take the strongest and most appropriate action as I am able within the constraints of regulation and law.”
Knight said service members should not receive special treatment from courts for their status but instead should be held to a higher standard, and he added that the Vermont Guard must improve its ability to identify service members who engage in criminal behavior. As part of this effort, he worked with the state legislature to create a Provost Marshal team that will improve communication between the Guard and civilian law enforcement agencies, and has asked his Provost Marshal team to conduct background checks of the Guard’s members.
“In our organization of about 3,200 people, I know the vast majority are living up to and exceeding standards every day. But I want everyone to know that I hear and believe those who had the courage to share their stories,” Knight said. “I will continue to offer my support to them and any other person who needs to share, and when I have information, you’ll be heard.”
Knight said anyone can use the Vermont Army National Guard or Vermont Air National Guard mobile apps to send information anonymously to him or to agencies such as the inspector general, the sexual assault response coordinator, or the equal employment opportunity officer.
“If there are members acting aberrantly within this organization ... and you want to come forward, use the app,” he said.
Shevchik said the 158th Fighter Wing remains on target to meet its deadline to become a fully operational F-35 wing and continues to play a vital role in state COVID-19 response efforts, assembling test kits, conducting COVID mapping and providing vaccines to Service members, their families, and the community. Shevchik also praised the 158th Fire Department, which responded to an aircraft fire on March 24 within one minute of dispatch and extinguished the fire before it could reach the aircraft’s fuel tank.
Manfredi said the Vermont Army National Guard is continuing its mobilization of approximately 1,000 Soldiers to support missions in U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command, and U.S. Central Command. Mobilizations will continue through June. Soldiers are also supporting state missions including the Strategic National Stockpile, COVID mapping and vaccinations, with more than 10,000 vaccines administered to Vermont residents as of this week.
Most of the questions during the open portion of the town hall focused on concerns about F-35 noise pollution. A noise exposure map released by Burlington International Airport shows a dramatic expansion in noise levels that has accompanied the F-35 mission, with 65-decibel exposure levels extending northwest into downtown Winooski, southeast into Williston, and outward into portions of South Burlington. Pilots take off under reduced power settings and finalize their approach for landing at a higher altitude to mitigate noise, Shevchik said.
“We understand, we’re members of the community,” Shevchik said. “We live around and serve the community, and we want to be as respectful as we can. However, we also have an obligation and responsibility to meet our federal training requirements.”
Knight said the Vermont National Guard is working with the airport authority, the Federal Aviation Administration, and Vermont’s Congressional delegation to secure funding for noise mitigation.
Knight closed the town hall by encouraging Service members and veterans who have deployed to U.S. Central Command to sign up for the Department of Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, even if they have not experienced symptoms or illnesses.
“Over the last several years, we’ve lost service members to odd, aggressive cancers that may have been caused by burn pits,” he said. “If you think you may have been exposed, register. If you know somebody who may have been exposed, get them to register.”
The full video of the town hall is available on the Vermont National Guard’s Facebook page: March 25 Virtual Town Hall.
Vermont Army National Guard Mobile App:
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.m360mobile.vermontng
Apple App Store: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/vermont-national-guard/id1521612003
Vermont Air National Guard Mobile App:
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.m360mobile.fighterwing158
Apple App Store: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/158th-fighter-wing/id1435568915