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Sunday, August 8, 2021

Report: ‘Good Old Boy’ Network Has Flourished in the Vermont National Guard

Posted By on Sun, Aug 8, 2021 at 12:01 AM

Adjutant General Greg Knight testifying before a legislative committee - FILE: KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Adjutant General Greg Knight testifying before a legislative committee
The first outside assessment undertaken in Vermont National Guard history confirms patterns of misconduct and spotlights serious roadblocks to accountability and reform.

The report was ordered in November 2019 by Adjutant General Greg Knight as part of his pledge to clean up and professionalize the organization, which has been beset by problems of sexual assault, harassment and favoritism. The blistering assessment, which was undertaken over 18 months by the National Guard’s Office of Complex Investigations, included reviews of internal documents, interviews with 70 officials, and a sweeping survey involving more than 2,000 members of the Air and Army Guard units. Investigators limited the scope of their inquiry to three years: 2017 to 2020.

Some of the problems noted were systemic. The assessment team found, for instance, that the Guard’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program is under-resourced, and that the offices tasked with addressing discrimination, harassment and other misconduct don’t comply with federal rules and lack qualified staffers.

Yet many other issues stem from an informal, untouchable and often-retaliatory “good old boy” network that, according to the report, has created “an undeniable chilling effect on the current senior leadership’s efforts to make changes for the better.”

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Thursday, April 29, 2021

Bill That Would Ban 'Forever Chemicals' Advances in Vermont House

Posted By on Thu, Apr 29, 2021 at 2:51 PM

Aaron Sutton, an employee of an environmental firm, testing a well outside the Air National Guard base in South Burlington - FILE: KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Aaron Sutton, an employee of an environmental firm, testing a well outside the Air National Guard base in South Burlington
A bid to ban consumer products that contain the kind of “forever chemicals” that polluted wells in the Bennington area passed a key committee Thursday in the Vermont legislature.

S. 20 would prevent food containers, rugs and ski wax made with PFAS chemicals from being distributed and sold in the state.

The bill received lengthy testimony and debate in the House Human Services Committee, much of it involving how firefighting foam containing the chemicals should also be phased out. The foam is used at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington, where it has polluted the groundwater, and by the petroleum industry.

The issue was complicated by concern that the state lacks the power to regulate the use of the foam by the Guard, which is governed by Department of Defense regulations but provides fire protection to the civilian Burlington International Airport.

Ultimately, the committee required firefighting foam used in the state to be free of such chemicals by October of 2023, with a limited one-year extension for petroleum distributors who use it for fuel fires. The date aligns with the target the Department of Defense has set for shifting to new firefighting foams.

Rep. Ann Pugh (D-Burlington) pushed back against some of the criticism, including from members of her own committee, that earlier versions of the bill contained too many exemptions for industry groups and others that opposed it. An early version proposed exemptions for the petroleum industry stretching to 2028.

“We didn’t do this for industry. We didn’t do this for the military. We didn’t do this for the rug companies or for the ski wax people. We did this to protect Vermonters,” Pugh said.

PFAS compounds are called "forever chemicals" because of how long they take to break down in the environment. The same durability that makes the chemicals effective as coatings for cookware or strengthening textiles also makes them last in the environment. After they were discovered in groundwater in Southern Vermont in 2016, subsequent state testing has found elsewhere.

Water systems, groundwater, landfill leachate and wastewater treatment plants in the state have all tested positive for PFAS chemicals, many at levels significantly higher than the 20 parts per trillion standard set by the state for drinking water.

The bill is intended to expand the state’s response from merely cleaning up the mess to preventing PFAS chemicals from being used in Vermont in the first place. The consumer products identified in the bill are those known to have high PFAS levels or — as in the case of some food packaging— a direct pathway to consumers’ bodies.

The bill is expected to get a full House vote next week, after which it would need concurrence by the Senate. 

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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Soldier With Lengthy Criminal History Is No Longer in Vermont National Guard

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2021 at 11:11 PM

  • Vermont State Police
  • Daniel Blodgett
Daniel Blodgett, the Vermont National Guard member who served despite a history of criminal offenses going back more than a decade, is no longer with the Guard, its commander told a legislative committee on Thursday. Adj. Gen. Greg Knight also briefly outlined strategies he said the organization is pursuing to better track criminal allegations involving its members.

On March 24, Seven Days reported that Blodgett had maintained his Guard status despite a criminal history that included eight misdemeanor convictions. He's currently facing multiple counts of sexual assault, including of two women who served in the Guard. The military org has wrestled for years with allegations that it has tolerated sexual harassment in its ranks.

Knight spoke before the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee on Thursday. first reported his remarks.
"Daniel Blodgett, who was accused of sexual assault in February, is no longer a member of the Vermont National Guard," Knight told committee members.

He did not elaborate. Knight previously said the allegations against Blodgett were "repulsive," telling attendees at a town hall meeting: “Anybody who chooses to behave in such a way, they don’t deserve to be in uniform.”

Knight on Thursday told lawmakers that he is working to set up more rigorous systems for checking his members' backgrounds, including running more background checks. Members don't always report their arrests to military authorities, Knight said, a problem seen around the country.
Knight says he's working to address what he called "a gap in the information flow between civil law enforcement and the Guard." He said he has communicated with Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling, who has approached law enforcement leaders in the state about asking people, when they are charged with a crime, whether they are Guard members.

"That, in turn, should prompt communication to our provost marshal team and then allow us to ... expeditiously address adjudication on the military side," Knight told lawmakers.

Knight has previously acknowledged that the Guard has been "deficient" in training its leaders to punish lawbreakers. He said he would better educate them how to secure punishments, including discharges.

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Thursday, March 25, 2021

At Town Hall, Knight Addresses 'Repulsive' Allegations Against Guard Soldier

Posted By on Thu, Mar 25, 2021 at 11:05 PM

  • Adj. Gen. Greg Knight

Vermont's top military official and the governor on Thursday condemned the alleged conduct of a Vermont National Guard solider who is accused of multiple counts of sexual and physical assault.

Seven Days detailed Daniel Blodgett's long criminal history and recent felony charges in an investigation published this week.

At a virtual town hall event, Adj. Gen. Greg Knight addressed the allegations in his initial prepared remarks and in response to questions submitted by the public, several of which asked about Blodgett by name.

“The actions described have no place in the Vermont National Guard or in our military,” Knight said. “Anybody who chooses to behave in such a way, they don’t deserve to be in uniform.”

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Monday, February 1, 2021

Abenaki Vermont Veteran Featured During Biden's Inauguration

Posted By on Mon, Feb 1, 2021 at 9:53 PM

Takara Matthews dressed for her inaugural appearance - COURTESY OF TAKARA MATTHEWS
  • Courtesy of Takara Matthews
  • Takara Matthews dressed for her inaugural appearance
Dressed in a white, handmade dress with otter pelts tied into her hair, Takara Matthews flashed across the screen for just a few seconds during President Joe Biden’s inaugural ceremony on January 20.

But the Franklin County woman says she was proud to represent her state, her Abenaki culture, and her career as a member of the military.

“It’s never about me,” Matthews said. “It’s about representing my people. I just want to make people proud.”

Matthews is a member of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi in Swanton, where she grew up; her parents were also of Mohawk, Lumbee and Muskogee descent. She served in the U.S. Coast Guard and then the U.S. Air Force as a member of the Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing. She left the service in 2015 — on July 4th, she noted — and a couple of years later was recruited to join the Native American Women Warriors, a Colorado-based veterans group.

The volunteer organization performs color guard details across the country and has a network that provides support to other veterans — women, Native American or not — who are dealing with PTSD or need other assistance.

“It’s just embedded in my blood to always help,” Matthews said.

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Thursday, January 14, 2021

Vermont National Guard Will Help Secure D.C. for Biden's Inauguration

Posted By on Thu, Jan 14, 2021 at 10:58 AM

Police guarding the U.S. Capitol on January 6 - JULIAN LESHAY, DREAMSTIME
  • Julian Leshay, Dreamstime
  • Police guarding the U.S. Capitol on January 6
About 100 members of the Vermont Army National Guard will join 20,000 troops in Washington, D.C., in the days leading up to president-elect Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration.

The timeline is fluid, but Vermont soldiers are expected to arrive in D.C. by Tuesday, a Guard spokesperson said Thursday morning. Most of those headed south are from the 1st Squadron, 172nd Cavalry, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain).

The soldiers are among tens of thousands deploying to D.C. in the aftermath of the January 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump extremists, who falsely believe outgoing President Donald Trump won reelection in November. A bipartisan coalition of members from the U.S. House of Representatives, including Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), impeached Trump for the second time on Wednesday for his inflammatory speech ahead of last week’s insurrection.
The National Guard members headed to the nation's capital will be “deployed to provide security, communications, medical evacuation, logistics, and safety support to district and federal agencies,” the Vermont Guard said in a press release. “The public’s safety is the top priority of the National Guard, members will meet the requirements of the supported civil authorities, posturing with protective equipment, weapons and live-ammunition.”

Gov. Phil Scott, a frequent critic of Trump who has called for the president’s removal from office for inciting the insurrection, approved the mission, which takes some soldiers out of state at a time when they are also supporting COVID-19 relief efforts in Vermont.
“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,” Scott said in a statement. “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.”

Thousands of National Guard members are already in Washington. Photos on Wednesday showed soldiers sprawled out in the Capitol rotunda, guarding the beacon of American democracy for the first time since soldiers defended the building during the Civil War.

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

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Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Vermont National Guard is Building a 400-Bed Hospital at the Champlain Valley Expo

Posted By on Sat, Apr 4, 2020 at 5:02 PM

Vermont National Guard members erecting walls inside the exhibition hall - MATTHEW ROY
  • Matthew Roy
  • Vermont National Guard members erecting walls inside the exhibition hall
The Vermont National Guard was rapidly building out a 400-bed overflow hospital inside the halls of the Champlain Valley Exposition on Saturday, and  beds should be ready as soon as Sunday.

Dozens of Guard members wielded nail guns and power saws inside the bustling Robert E. Miller Expo Centre, which smelled of sawdust. Men and women muscled segments of wooden walls into rows that were quickly taking shape in the cavernous building.
This room will be a finished hospital by Monday. - MATTHEW ROY
  • Matthew Roy
  • This room will be a finished hospital by Monday.

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Monday, March 23, 2020

National Guard Setting Up Medical Facilities in Vermont

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2020 at 11:03 PM

Vermont National Guard members arriving at University of Vermont Medical Center to set up tents - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • Vermont National Guard members arriving at University of Vermont Medical Center to set up tents

Updated, March 24, 2020

More than a dozen Vermont National Guard members arrived in Humvees and other military vehicles in front of the University of Vermont Medical Center's Emergency Department Tuesday afternoon.

A Guard medical unit is setting up a facility to provide additional medical care,  according to Capt. Mike Arcovitch, a National Guard spokesperson. Medics with the Northfield-based 186th Brigade Support Battalion will set up tents in the hospital lot, he said. 

“We’re sending medical personnel there to assist and augment the hospital in whatever way they are needed,” Arcovitch said.“We’ll be prepared to receive patients as soon as they need us and for as long as they need us,” he said.

Members quickly got to work setting up mobile generators and installing tents on wooden platforms beside four drive-up aide stations under construction. The little M.A.S.H. unit — Mobile Army Surgical Hospital — was expected to be operational for “routine medical care” by the end of the day, Maj. Joseph Phelan said.

How many and what types of patients would be seen at the overflow center would be up to ER administration, he said.

Vermont is also preparing for a surge in new COVID-19 patients by asking the National Guard to help it establish three overflow medical facilities around the state.

Gov. Phil Scott announced the move at a press conference Monday as the state braces for a sharp increase in infections and patients. The number of positive coronavirus cases jumped from 29 on Friday to 75 on Monday; five people have died.

“While we hope we don’t have to use them, we must be prepared for this possibility," Scott said.

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Vermont Guard Begins Mobilizing for Virus Response

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2020 at 7:10 PM

The Vermont National Guard Armory in Waterbury - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • The Vermont National Guard Armory in Waterbury
The Vermont National Guard announced Friday that it has begun calling up members to active duty to help the state respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gen. Greg Knight told senators during a conference call that two part-time soldiers have been placed on active duty to help with emergency planning in the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Waterbury.

In addition, five airmen would be activated over the weekend to begin preparing to distribute supplies next week if necessary, Knight said. Gov. Phil Scott’s emergency declaration last week gave Knight the power to call up troops as needed in consultation with state emergency officials.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Tax-Free Shop for Military Members to Close December 13

Posted By on Tue, Dec 3, 2019 at 5:13 PM

Bill Keogh shops for booze at the Camp Johnson base exchange - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • Bill Keogh shops for booze at the Camp Johnson base exchange
The base exchange at Camp Johnson isn’t the most convenient place for Bill Keogh to shop for booze. 

The retired army guardsman and former Burlington city councilor has to drive from his South End home up Interstate 89 to Colchester, pass through base security and then navigate his way to a nondescript structure at the end of Veterans Road.

It’s a little out of the way, but old habits die hard.

“I save myself $10 on a bottle of bourbon. It probably costs me $3 in gas,” quipped the 89-year-old Keogh as he trekked to the little trading post for what may be the last time.

The exchange at Camp Johnson is closing for good on December 13, the likely victim of dwindling sales and increased competition from online and local retailers.

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