By Kirk Carapezza
As defense cuts loom large in Washington, the Legislature on Thursday will elect the next senior uniformed officer of the Vermont National Guard.
The Vermont House and Senate will meet in joint session beginning at 10:30 Thursday morning to vote on the adjutant general responsible for training and equipping members of the Vermont Army and Air National Guard.
The election comes as the Pentagon warns that the “vast majority” of civilian defense employees would face furloughs if across-the-board federal spending cuts take effect next month, and those cuts could affect the Vermont Guard’s chances of basing the next generation F-35 fighter jet in South Burlington.
Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington, chairs the House General Housing and Military Affairs Committee. Last week, she said the Legislature is searching for someone who has a clear vision of where the Guard is now – and where it needs to go.
“We are looking at questions around financial concerns,” Head said. “We’re looking at how this leader for the Guard will address a number of issues regarding recruitment, retention, the care of the members of the Guard and their families.”
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said if automatic spending cuts known as the sequester take effect next week most of the nation’s 800,000 civilian workers will be affected. Pentagon figures show its civilian payroll in Vermont for the 2012 fiscal year was $35.6 million, and about $32.6 million for 2013.
Rep. Head said lawmakers, therefore, are also looking at how the candidates would respond to budget constraints as well as the federal decision expected this spring whether to base the next generation of F-35 fighter jets at Burlington International Airport in South Burlington.
“I think there are some significant issues about how the community is developing, the concerns that people have around growth in the airport – noise, housing issues,” Head said.
The candidates in the race are Col. Michael Bullock, Brig. Gen. Steven Cray, Col. Darryl Ducharme and South Burlington attorney James Marc Lens. Adjutant General Thomas Drew is not seeking re-election.
In addition to leading the Vermont National Guard, the adjutant general also serves as head of the State Military Department and Veterans Affairs.