CAMP JOHNSON, Vermont –
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.
- Three Soldiers with our National Guard Biathlon program, run by us out of our training center in Jericho, are currently competing in the 2022 Olympics. Sgt. Deedra Irwin recently finished 7th in the women’s 15km individual, the highest placement every by a US biathlete. She is joined by VTARNG teammates Spc. Leif Nordgren and Spc. Sean Doherty.
- Elements of the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain), are currently deployed in Kosovo, but are preparing to return home in March 2022. 86th IBCT (MTN), is inclusive of units from Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Colorado. In total, approximately 950 Vermont Soldiers have deployed.
- Approximately 40 Soldiers from the 172nd Law Enforcement Detachment returned from deployment to Romania and Bulgaria in November 2021.
- Third Battalion, 172nd Infantry returned from CENTCOM in December 2021. While deployed in multiple southwest Asian countries, the battalion supported the processing of over 12,000 Afghan refugees at an interim staging area. A small contingent of the battalion supported the evacuation operations in August at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
- The 158th Fighter Wing successfully completed two deployment exercises with the F-35, including Red Flag 21-3 at Nellis AFB, Nevada in July/August. The Wing was the only Air National Guard unit invited to participate. This culminated in the completion of the conversion process from the F-16 on 1 Jan 2022, making the Wing a fully operational F-35 Fighter Wing.
- Thirty-one pilots are fully F-35 qualified, 16 of whom are instructor pilots, which is the highest percentage of any F-35 operational squadron in the United States Air Force.
- Two of the eight future pilots hired in the past two years are the Wing’s first and second female F-35 pilots. They are in different phases of training; one has completed Introductory Flight Training (IFT) and began the F-35 Basic Course in November 2021, which takes about a year. The second pilot started IFT in January 2022 and will begin the F35 Basic Course in about 2 years.
- Eighty percent of approximately 400 aircraft maintainers have completed advanced F-35 qualification training, leading the maintenance effort and sharing best practices for F-35 maintenance across the USAF.
- The 158th Civil Engineer Squadron received a national level Air Force design award for the Building 150 F-35 Maintenance Hangar. Mr. Shannon Kelly and Mr. Peter Dufault of the 158th Fighter Wing Environmental Management Office (EMO) received the 2021 Air National Guard General Thomas D. White Environmental Restoration, Installation Award, which recognizes the Installation conducting the best Environmental Restoration Program in the entire ANG.
- The Wing Public Affairs team received national level recognition for their outstanding film, video and other media products created from the Wing’s multiple training events.
- The 158th Fighter Wing Fire Department responded to approximately 250 Mutual Aid incidents, including Mutual Aid Emergency Response to 17 Cities and Towns in Chittenden County.
- On August 14th, 2021, our Vermont Army National Guard Aviation worked with local first responders from Waterbury Backcountry, Barre Town Fire Department, Plainfield Fire and Rescue, and East Montpelier Fire Department to evacuate a badly injured hiker from Spruce Mountain in Plainfield.
- A National Guard Bureau (NGB) bi-annual reassessment of full-time manning has reduced the Vermont Army National Guard Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) workforce from 296 to 266. The reduction of 30 AGR resources, starting in October 2021, will be done through attrition over the next couple of years.
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COVID-19 response. The VTNG continues to support the State of Vermont interagency partners as part of the COVID-19 pandemic response.
- We expect to lose 3-4% of our Guard members due to refusal or non-approval of religious accommodation for the DoD mandated COVID-19 vaccination.
- Ongoing support of the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) with COVID19 testing. To date, over 34,000 samples collected.
- Conducting VDH sample-kit assembly. To date, over 184,000 kits assembled in FY22. Shipped over 1 million kits since August 2020.
- Continued support of FEMA in staffing Strategic National Stockpile warehouse operations for reception and distribution of supplies. To date, over 1.8 million products organized and shipped, 661 trucks offloaded, and 342 deliveries and pickups completed.
- Twenty-four Soldiers and Airmen currently support the Department of Health with voluntary COVID-19 mapping (contact tracing).
- The VTNG is working with partner state agencies for vaccination operations with over 75,000 vaccines administered.
- All VTNG pandemic response missions except vaccination and SNS warehouse operations are scheduled to end on March 17, 2022.
- Approximately 93% of VTNG members are fully vaccinated, including deployed members.
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State Partnership Program (SPP).
- The VTNG two state partnerships with North Macedonia (28 years) and Senegal (14 years) continue to be strong military-to-military, train and advise, relationships. These partnerships are invaluable to the security cooperation strategy for combatant commanders and a critical piece of our national defense strategy.
- In October 2021 The VTNG was selected for a third partnership with The Republic of Austria. The VTARNG has longstanding relationship with Austria through the military mountaineering community. We look forward to beginning this new relationship over the coming months with signing ceremonies and the establishment of a Bilateral Affairs Officer in the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, Austria. The initial meeting with the Austrians took place in the National Capital Region with both Governor Scott and I attending.
- In September 2021 the Minister of Defense from North Macedonia visited Vermont. Accompanying her was a small group of educators and economic representatives. I am working with the respective Ambassadors, Governor Scott and state agencies to grow SPP into a more robust and whole-of-Vermont approach. Commerce, trade, agriculture, tourism and environment are focus areas of interest. The group met with Vermont State Government officials, local business and higher education leaders. During this visit, the team explored opportunities to pursue a whole-of-society approach to the Vermont-North Macedonia partnership working to identify economic cooperation opportunities.
- As of the date of this writing, the VTNG is conducting a medical readiness exercise in St. Louis, Senegal. Over 20 Army and Air medical personnel will treat local civilians, work shoulder-to-shoulder to train Senegalese providers and repair medical equipment. I look forward to reporting on the results of the exercise in my next update.
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VTNG Economic Impact.
- The VTNG brought $153 million (full-time and traditional Guard) in federal payroll into Vermont in fiscal year 2021.
- Contract purchasing went to 296 Vermont vendors for contracting actions, food and non-food services, for a total of $5.8 million in FY21.
- Federal Operations and Maintenance budget for the VTNG in FY21 was $64.5 million (an increase of $20 million), allowing for continued VTNG training, operations, and professional military education.
- In FY21 the VTARNG received $1.2 million in design funds toward the new Bennington Readiness Center. Additionally the VTARNG received $12.7 million in Sustainment Restoration and Modernization (SRM) construction money. The VTARNG Facilities Management Office received $5.8M for Base Services to cover payroll for state employees, contractors, contractual service costs, utilities, and equipment. In total, $19.7 million in military construction and facilities related funds into Vermont.
- Over the next FY – there are 3 projects worth over $15 million (Family Service Center - $4.65 million, Biathlon Upgrades - $6 million, and Colchester Readiness Center - $5 million) and 1 – MILCON over $16.8 million. All projects are planned to be contracted through the State Military Department.
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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.
- Continued work on collaboration with state agencies, National Guard Bureau (NGB), federal partners, private employers and Fort Drum to bring separating active duty members to the VTNG and into the Vermont workforce. The VTARNG has attended career fairs at Fort Drum with private companies and has plans to bring state partners to future career fairs. The career fairs have developed multiple leads for local businesses and the VTARNG. This initiative can grow across the globe to all active duty military installations.
- The VTARNG Honorary Commander Program, already in place with the VTANG, continues to gain momentum. This remarkably successful program brings together civic leaders, who serve as centers of influence, to partner with commanders, bringing additional perspective, expertise and a sense of community. Vermont is one of two states with an Army National Guard executing this program. Honorary Commanders have partnered in coordinating with Vermont colleges and universities to educate admissions personnel and counselors on the technical opportunities in the VTNG as well as the educational benefits available to Guard members.
- I am the Executive Secretary of the Recruit, Retain and Train Readiness Advisory Council at the national level, providing input and recommendations to affect strategic change in recruiting policies with NGB, the Army and Department of Defense. We have realized success in several key areas facilitating greater latitude for Adjutants General to: make waiver decisions for enlistments; reestablish programs that make it easier for prior service personnel to enlist in the VTNG; revising enlistment standards; tailoring financial incentives for a shifting recruiting demographic; and pursuing change to medical standards to keep pace with advances in medical science.
- As a member of the Adjutants General Association of the United States, I remain a member of the Personnel Subcommittee, working with partner Guard state Adjutants General to effect personnel policy change at the NGB and Congressional level.
- We enrolled in the Department of the Army's Partnership for Youth Success (PaYS) Program, which guarantees job interviews with Vermont businesses to our newest Soldiers at the time of enlistment or transfer from the Regular Army. We are also implementing this internally with our Air Guard, through the interview opportunity program, aligning new VTANG service members for interviews with Vermont businesses.
- The VTNG provides significant benefit to Vermonters interested in service: education entitlement; $20k enlistment bonuses for 15 specialties in the ARNG; $50k student-loan repayment for college graduates; $250k student-loan repayment for doctors and dentists; affordable health/dental care and life insurance; reenlistment/extension bonuses. Messaging this is critical and the Vermont Legislature can help.
- The VTNG enhanced our internal incentive program offering compensation of $1,000 for any VTNG member in the rank of Private to Major providing an enlistment to the VTNG ($500 upon enlistment and $500 upon shipping to basic training).
- We are collaborating with a civilian marketing agency and the Vermont Association of Broadcasters to produce two commercials promoting service in the VTARNG, which will air on both cable TV and social media in late spring 2022.
- We are partnering with VSAC to promote our education benefits at the College & Career Pathways virtual event in March 2022. Additionally, our Education Officer is briefing VSAC college counselors on VTNG benefits in February 2022.
- We are in the process of hiring nine new VTARNG Recruiters to cover more areas of the state.
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Organizational Improvement and Diversity.
- Our “Organizational Assessment” received in the summer of 2021 provided 56 findings and 35 recommendations. Our working group has developed 46 actions to address the findings and recommendations. 23 of the actions are complete and 23 remain in progress. All policy updates but two have been completed. One of the two policies yet to be completed is in draft, and going through the staff review process while the second policy is in the process of being updated.
- The VTNG continues to make progress in transparency of selection and promotion practices, professional development for leadership and in addressing climate related issues brought forth in the report through policy updates, increased communication from leadership and recurring professional development workshops. This revised professional development program provides future leaders with the training, tools and education previously neglected – this “fills in the gaps” not addressed through required professional military education.
- The Reach Up Campaign Started in August 2021 providing an anonymous means for Soldiers and Airmen to utilize the VTNG app to report issues to public affairs, State Equal Employment Manager, Equal Opportunity Officer, Inspector General, Provost Marshal and direct to me.
- We conducted Joint Air/Army Training for Victim Advocates in the fall of 2021 to ensure our Victim Advocates are current on regulations, resources and their ability to support survivors of sexual misconduct.
- The Leadership Development Brief in December 2021 focused on command team roles in the response to reports of sexual assault, and training on non-judicial punishment options available to commanders in response to Guard member misconduct.
- November 2021 Wellness Wednesday focused on all members to focus on self-care, Yoga and other mental health activities.
- Vermont National Guard Fiscal Year 2021 “Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment; Report”; report contains positive indicators regarding the VTNG programs. Commanders and leaders have created a climate where survivors of sexual assault are coming forward with confidence that their reports will be taken seriously, and knowledge that they will receive the support and care necessary.
- Our Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program specialists are working on a new training initiative involving more conversations with our Guard members, focusing on emotional intelligence and healthy relationships. Our first event occurred during February 2022 drill weekend.
- The VTANG hosted a SAPR and Suicide Prevention 5k. It was conducted virtually due to COVID, but more than 100 VTNG members participated.
- Ms. Nikki Sorrell, our State Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, is part of the Sexual Assault Prevention Task Force with NGB, working to help roll-out the 82 recommendations from the DoD Interim Review Commission, supported by Congress.
- Dr. Mercedes Avila, a professor at the University of Vermont and a member of the Vermont Governor’s Racial Equity Task Force led three cultural humility and competence classes. Dr. Avila trained approximately 60 leaders. She is also an honorary member of our Joint Diversity Executive Council.
- We published a comprehensive Equal Employment Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in September 2022. This SOP revision is in addition to the revisions made to the Anti-Harassment SOP, the Breastmilk Expression policy, and the Reasonable Accommodation SOP that were released earlier this year. A Military Equal Opportunity SOP is currently being reviewed by senior staff.
- Our Joint Diversity Executive Council (JDEC) completed a year-long process in developing a new DE&I strategic plan. JDEC is now revising its Charter to reinvigorate the council and its mission.
- We revised the Organizational Inspection Program for equal opportunity, creating a more relevant checklist to promote and enforce equal opportunity.
- We are exploring holding facilitated discussions with units on matters dealing with civility and respect as a way to proactively talk about issues. About 30 VTANG members have already participated in these discussions.
- On October 17, 2021, we held a panel discussion featuring four of our Hispanic members highlighting their struggles and successes during their military career.
- We held a multicultural festival on November 7, 2021, promoting the different cultures at the VTNG.
- JDEC released its bi-annual newsletters in August and February featuring articles written by our service members on DE&I issues.
- Our Human Resources Department conducted two week-long management training sessions, which covered a variety of topics including sexual assault and sexual harassment.
- The last week of October, our Military Equal Opportunity staff conducted a six-day course to train 12 Equal Opportunity Leaders (EOLs). With this training, all but one of our 52 units have at least one EOL. This provides us with trained professionals to informally resolve member issues and increases awareness of diversity and helps mitigate equal opportunity issues.
- Our partnership with Let’s Grow Kids continues. We are looking to launch a drill weekend childcare alternative for our members this spring as part of a pilot program to offer non-traditional childcare to dual military families and single parents in our Guard.
- As outlined in our Legislative Report, the VTARNG recruited 44 women in FY21. This represents about 22% of the entire recruitment class, and is an increase from FY20 in which 14% of the new recruits were women.
- During FY21, we did not have any informal or formal military EO complaints or any civilian EEO complaints. We recognize that members may be reluctant to come forward, or not be familiar with the process. The VTNG State Equal Employment Manager is developing one-page fact sheets to explain the process in a simplified way.
- Aligned with addressing behavioral health challenges, we are participating in the NGB sponsored Warrior Resilience and Fitness pilot program. The intent is to expand access to care by providing a novel approach to optimize brain function through Magnetic e-Resonance Therapy. Treatment for PTSD, TBI, anxiety, and depression using a device that delivers a series of transcranial magnetic pulses tailored to the individual’s brainwave activity. Vermont is the only state participating in this program. Personnel are currently in training for its use, and despite my efforts, funding remains unavailable.
- We have a new full-time Equal Opportunity Advisor (Nicole Mcelhaney) who will attend training to earn her certification for this position.
- Continued developing opportunities for, and placement of, women into key leader positions within the VTNG. Exemplified by the following (not all inclusive):
- Approximately 20.8% of assigned personnel are women.
- 66% of First Sergeants (Senior Non-Commissioned Officer leaders) at the Wing are women
- 50% of the Group Chief Master Sergeants (Colonel level command NCO leader) are women.
- 38% of the Chief Master Sergeants are women.
- 30% of lieutenants in the Wing are women.
- Two women currently identified as F35 pilot candidates. One is nearing completion of flight training, the other just beginning this challenging two-year process.
- Maintenance Group Commander (Colonel level command) is a woman.
- 19% of new enlistments into the VTANG are women.
- The VTANG per capita representation of persons of color exceeds that of Vermont (6.3%, Vermont 1.4%).
- 14.5% of assigned personnel are women. (64 Officers, 9 Warrant Officers and 228 Enlisted)
- To date, 36.4% of new FY22 enlistments into the VTARNG are women.
- Thirteen female Soldiers are currently serving in combat arms positions.
- The incoming Director of the Joint Staff VTNG is a woman (Brigadier General position).
- The Personnel Directorate Sergeant Major is a woman.
- The VTNG Logistics Directorate Sergeant Major is a woman.
- The Brigade Support Battalion Sergeant Major is a woman.
- This spring, two female Lieutenant Colonels will command our Brigade Engineer Battalion and Brigade Support Battalion.
- The VTARNG remains the first, and only, Guard state to open the entire Army National Guard to the recruitment of women.
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.
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Legislation, Engagement and Communication.
- To increase communication with the public, and as part of our strategic plan, I have continued Facebook Live town halls and organizational forums at least quarterly. These outlets provide anyone interested the opportunity to ask questions of VTNG senior leaders.
- Continued monthly “TAG Corner” videos distributed via social media and app to provide an accessible message to the force and the public on important issues of the day. The app is available to the public in the app store, under 158th FW or VTARNG, respectively.
- Continued engagement at the national level via CODEL, Adjutants General Association, advisory councils and liaison with National Guard Bureau on multiple Guard specific issues (NDAA, staffing, funding, recruiting, Title 32 funding).
- In the last six months, I have sent 112 letters to Soldiers, Airmen, community members and international partners to acknowledge important milestones such as commendations, academic achievement, promotion, appreciation, birth of a child and marriage.
- We remain actively engaged with the VTNG and Veteran’s Legislative Caucus, meeting monthly to discuss items important to Legislators and to share information about the VTNG. This is inclusive of a joint VTNG and Women’s Caucus meeting to discuss gender specific issues in NOV21.
- The effort to enroll more Veterans into the burn pit registry continues by initiating our Burn Pit Registry Month in November. While the pandemic has disrupted the timeline, we saw the number of registrants grow by more than 100 Veterans. There are now more than 830 Veteran’s registered.
- The VTNG has continued focusing on transparency of operations, inclusive of an updated website, posting a number of our policies (Equal Opportunity, Telework, Provost Marshal, Human Resources, Sexual Harassment/Sexual Assault) on line, available to the public.
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