The next leader of the Vermont National Guard, who will take office later this week, will be confronting allegations the institution tolerated sexual harassment, alcohol abuse and retaliation against whistleblowers.
Vermont is the only state in the country where the adjutant general is chosen by the Legislature, and the four candidates have been working the halls — asking lawmakers for their support and offering their suggestions about how they would confront the issues facing the institution.
While the current guard leadership defended the organization and said the excesses described in a series of reports by the online news organization VtDigger were exaggerated, the four candidates each say there is work to be done to make the guard more inclusive. The news organization stood by its stories.
The vote is scheduled to happen on Thursday.
The Vermont National Guard responds to state emergencies and it also has provided troops for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have been fought over the last two decades.
It has been a source of pride for some in the state that the Vermont Air National Guard was chosen by the Pentagon as the first guard unit to host the next generation F-35 fighter planes, which are replacing the aging F-16s and are designed to be the Air Force’s main-line fighter plane for decades to come. Others fought against the deployment of the plane to the Burlington International Airport feeling it was too loud and potentially dangerous to be based at a suburban airport.
The Vermont Air National Guard has an authorized strength of about 1,100 service members. The Army National Guard, with an authorized strength of about 2,550, has a number of combat and support units spread across the state.
On Monday, Gov. Phil Scott asked for a review of policies and procedures at the Guard, VtDigger reported.
The seven-part series published by VTDigger in November found that Guard members “with close ties to leadership” received lighter punishments and others who brought problems forward were punished.
The stories also said male officials received preferential treatment and were allowed to break rules while women were passed up for promotions and treated poorly.
On top of addressing past problems, the four candidates also know they must focus on recruiting new members and do more to keep the members who currently are serving.
Retired Brig. Gen. David Baczewski
Baczewski is an U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and fighter pilot who served 14 years on active duty, 12 years with the Vermont National Guard and three more years overseas before retiring in 2017.
He told lawmakers earlier this month he would lead by working with others and helping the organization be “more inclusive, fair and open.”
He said he would work as a team with the governor, the Legislature and others to find solutions to the challenges facing the guard and Vermont.
“The position of adjutant general is to provide leadership, not only in mission readiness but to command a culture and an ethic that meets and exceeds all expectations of a changing society.”
Retired Army Lt. Col. David Graham
Graham describes himself as a former long-haired construction worker who turned to the military in the 1970s as a way to give back to his community.
He became an armor officer and then rose through the ranks, including working with the ROTC program at the University of Vermont. After leaving the Vermont guard, he worked in other military jobs in New England.
If elected, he said he would issue new orders to everyone outlining the conduct he expects of those serving below him. He also would focus on recruiting more members and retaining those already serving.
“Professional conduct and other related things would be my intent,” Graham said.
Retired Col. Rosanne Greco
Greco served 30 years in the Air Force before moving to Vermont in 2003 after she retired from the military. She served as a South Burlington city councilor and became known for her opposition to the Air Force’s assigning to Vermont the F-35 fighter planes, now due to arrive this fall.
Greco said during the Statehouse hearing she still is opposed to the plane being based in Vermont, but during her years in the military, she’s learned to follow orders.
“I’d speak truth to power, but at the end, if they are the decision makers, I would salute smartly, and I would carry on, but I wouldn’t do it with my eyes closed,” she said.
Col. Greg Knight
Knight is a 35-year military veteran who served as a staff officer of a Vermont Army National Guard in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2005 and 2006. He still is serving with the Vermont National Guard and got special permission to campaign for the office of adjutant general.
He said he’d work to get more women into leadership positions and he would like to set up a provost marshal system, similar to what is used in the active duty military, to investigate behavioral issues and work with the governor and state law enforcement agencies as needed.
“If we can educate our force, I think then we can continue to develop and create a culture of respect and equity for everyone,” Knight said. “We all have a responsibility to take action.”