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Vermont National Guard Sees Most Active Year Since Afghanistan

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Row of military vehicles in Berlin. Photo by Carla Occaso.

For the past year, the Vermont National Guard has been serving on the frontlines — aiding locally in coronavirus relief efforts, federally to support Operation Capitol Response in Washington, D.C., and globally with deployments to various locations in the U.S. Central Command and in Africa and Europe. This makes for their most active year since the 2010 Afghanistan deployments, reported Maj. Scott Detweiller, Acting State Public Affairs Officer for the Vermont Guard.

The Bridge’s readership has a Guard base in Berlin.

Coronavirus relief efforts started in March 2020, when Task Force Coyote — a unit serving Vermonters throughout the pandemic — established three different sites around the state in case of emergency overflow, set up an alternate health care facility in Essex in only a week to divert less acute needs from overwhelmed hospitals, and assembled and shipped over 160,000 test kits throughout the state. In recent weeks, the Task Force expanded the state’s vaccination capacity by providing vaccines to eligible Vermonters for four-day-long intervals, administering as many as 400 vaccine injections per day.

“The Vermont National Guard has been a crucial partner in our state’s response to the pandemic. They have excelled whenever called upon to assist and they will continue to play an important role with our vaccination rollout strategy,” said Gov. Phil Scott.

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In January of this year, 100 Vermont National Guard soldiers joined the nearly 20,000 National Guard service members deployed to Washington D.C. to provide security, medical aid, and safety support to district and federal agencies in anticipation of the presidential inauguration. 

“We swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America,” said Maj. Gen. Greg Knight, adjutant general of the Vermont Guard. “We are honored to play our part in securing one of the most time-honored traditions in American history: the presidential inauguration.”

Approving the Washington, D.C., mission, Gov. Phil Scott said: “After the tragic events at our Capitol on January 6, we must do all we can to secure a peaceful transition of power on Inauguration Day. I am grateful to the brave men and women of the Vermont National Guard for their service and doing their part during this deployment to protect our republic and the democratic values we hold dear.”

In addition to the Washington, D.C., deployment, 1,000 soldiers from the Vermont National Guard Army are scheduled to deploy to various locations throughout the spring. As for the Air Guard, 80 airmen are currently deployed throughout the Europe, Africa, and U.S. Central commands, and will remain there for the next several months. 

“The women and men of our Air Guard will experience great developmental opportunities down range, where they get to put their years of training and hard work to use in a very practical way, in support of not only the U.S. Air Force and our allies, but of our country as a whole,” said Col. Adam T. Rice, vice commander of the 158th Fighter Wing.

The National Guard deploys each state’s Guard on a 3- to 5-year rotation, placing the Vermont Guard’s last deployment opportunity in 2015. Instead of deploying, however, they trained at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk in Louisiana. Detweiller attributes the Guard’s current deployments to this experience: “That’s about as big of a training exercise as exists, and coming out of that we were among the most ready units to deploy in the army, which is why we got tasked with these various missions,” he said. He noted that training for federal missions prepares them to support not only the U.S. at large, but also their state and their own communities when they’re needed at home. 

“We’re all members of Vermont communities, and we’re honored to serve our neighbors. It’s been a great year to demonstrate all that the Vermont Guard can do, and all the future possibilities,” Detweiller said. 

The grassroots of one of these new possibilities for the Guard began over four years ago, when President Barack Obama opened up combat capabilities for women within the force. Since then, the Vermont Guard has been working to develop women leaders within this area — a regulatory necessity before bringing on female soldiers — and now has the first combat battalion authorized to recruit women into the unit, meaning that any woman can have any job she chooses within the Vermont National Guard.

“There are a lot of opportunities for people who have a desire to serve, and we’re eager for every Vermonter to look to us to take advantage of them,” Detweiller said.