By Julie Paroline
158th Fighter Wing
In October 2020, the Vermont National Guard announced to its members the implementation of a new Joint Enlistment Enhancement Program (the “JEEP”) and welcomed its first eligible enlistment into their Air National Guard soon after.
The purpose of JEEP is to motivate Airmen, Soldiers, military retirees, federal civilian employees of the Vermont National Guard, and members of the Vermont State Guard to bolster the Vermont National Guard’s recruitment efforts by referring new members into the force. After encouraging, inspiring and providing support to their referral, these “recruiting assistants” are eligible for a $500 referral bonus when the new applicant successfully becomes a member of the Vermont National Guard.
“We really had to be innovative and find the best way to acknowledge the hard work our women and men in uniform put into recruiting new members,” said Maj. Gen. Gregory Knight, adjutant general for the state of Vermont. “It is my belief that JEEP is already helping us maintain and grow the high-quality force we have here in Vermont.”
The first enlistee to join the Vermont National Guard after the official start of this program had a long-standing family connection to the organization.
A native Vermonter born in Montpelier, Maj. Jack Skoda has been serving since 1988 and first joined the Vermont Air National Guard in 1991. Before him, Skoda’s father served as a maintainer assigned to the 158th Fighter Wing in the 1960s. Then most recently, he was able to support and welcome his own daughter, Krystin, into the Vermont Air National Guard, marking this third generation family connection the first enlistment under this JEEP initiative.
“Krystin had been thinking about enlisting for a long time and was deciding between active and guard. The guard fit her future plans better than active duty,” explained Skoda. “I think the JEEP program is fabulous as a motivational tool to get Airmen out into their communities looking for new Green Mountain Boys.”
The JEEP pays eligible members, like Maj. Skoda, this monetary incentive for referring new enlistees to the Vermont National Guard - in this case, his daughter Krystin - which helps ensure the Guard remains properly manned and ready for federal and state activation.
“(JEEP) puts resources into the hands of the Airmen who bring in quality recruits to join us. That's a clear message: recruiting is important, so important we've got $500 for you when you succeed,” said Skoda.
New members can be first-time enlistees or prior service from any branch. There are some limitations for who can qualify as an eligible recruiting assistant. All members of the Vermont National Guard holding the rank of O-4 and below can participate. Retirees of any rank and any branch of service who refer an applicant are eligible to participate as well.
The demand for the Vermont National Guard to respond to crises and emergencies, both at home and abroad, continues to grow. To keep up with this increasing demand, as seen during the ongoing COVID-19 response, and maintain overall mission readiness, it became a clear priority to recruit and retain skilled Airmen and Soldiers with the goal of fully manning each unit.
“We’re on the right track,” said Knight. “A program like this helps us both attract new members while also retaining and rewarding our current team. The fact we are already seeing successful enlistments speaks to the upward trajectory we have as an organization and the positive impact that this program will have on our overall end strength.”
Currently one of only two states to offer this type of enlistment benefit, the other being Alabama, the compensation associated with this program in Vermont is funded from existing budget allocations made to the State Military Department budget.
Vermont’s JEEP initiative will continue to run throughout the fiscal year, or until funding is depleted.