The new commander of the Vermont National Guard said Friday the people of the state trust the guard with their most precious, their children, and he will work to honor that commitment while encouraging the next generation to serve their country and their state.
Vermont's new Adjutant Gen. Gregory Knight said he would make sure the guard is a welcoming place for all who serve.
"Together we will ensure that my daughter and yours, should they choose to join, have the same opportunities as any of our sons and provide them a culture in which they can thrive," Knight said.
Vermont is the only state in the country where the head of the state National Guard is chosen by a vote of the Legislature. During the run-up to the election last month where Knight was elected ahead of three other candidates, he and the other candidates were questioned by lawmakers about reports the institution tolerated sexual harassment, alcohol abuse and retaliation against whistleblowers.
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All agreed the issue needed to be addressed.
"What it comes down to, our neighbors entrust us with their most precious asset, their children," Knight said. "We will honor that commitment and do everything we can to bring forward the next generation in service."
The adjutant general leads the guard during state emergencies and ensures the troops are ready when called to active duty.
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.
The Vermont Air National Guard was chosen by the Pentagon as the first guard unit to host the next generation F-35 fighter planes, the first of which are due to arrive in September. The new planes replace the guard's 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 too dangerous to be based at a suburban airport.
Knight, a 35-year military veteran, was elected to the post last month by the Legislature.
While Knight was elected by the Legislature, lawmakers are considering changing the system. In most states, the guard commander is chosen by the governor.
Outgoing Adjutant General Steven Cray said he hoped the Legislature would change the system.
"It wasn't easy. It's not a good process and I'm confident that you and the governor and the Legislature are going to change it," said Cray, an Air Force pilot who is returning to commercial flying after leaving the guard. "We do not need to do it this way."