Former governor reflects on past Guard deployment

Print More

(Host) With more than a thousand Vermont soldiers activated to serve in the Middle East, peace groups want Governor Douglas to bring the troops home. The governor says those soldiers are now under the command of the Pentagon, and he doesn’t have the power to recall them.

It’s a lesson that a previous Vermont governor learned during an earlier, unpopular military mission overseas.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) In 1986, President Reagan put the National Guard under federal control. He wanted to send the Vermont troops and those from other states to Honduras. In Central America, the citizen soldiers were deployed on training missions to pressure neighboring Nicaragua. At that time, the Reagan administration opposed the leftist Sandinista government there.

In Vermont, Governor Madeleine Kunin didn’t want the Guard to participate in the mission. She opposed the deployment because she said it would increase hostilities with a country we weren’t at war with.

(Kunin) “I thought we were fighting a fight that was not in Americans’ best interests.”

(Dillon) According to records in the state archives, Donald Edwards, who was adjutant general, also was concerned about Vermont soldiers being sent to Central America. But as Kunin learned, once state troops are placed under federal command, there’s little a governor can do to control where or when they go to a war zone.

(Kunin) “I explored whether we could veto a decision to deploy the Guard to Honduras, but as events played out, it turned out that governors do not really do not have that authority, even though the governor is theoretically commander in chief of the Guard in his or her own state.”

(Dillon) Faced with opposition from states like Vermont, Minnesota and Massachusetts, Congress passed a law that increased the federal power over state militias, or National Guards.

Governor Rudy Perpich of Minnesota sued the Defense Department to overturn the law. Vermont supported Minnesota in the case. But the states lost and the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 upheld the new National Guard law, which is known as the Montgomery Amendment.

But the high court and the Montgomery Amendment carved out a little room for states to use to oppose deployment of their troops. If the federal mission limits the state’s ability to use the Guard to handle emergencies, then states are allowed to veto the mission. Governor Jim Douglas says that we’re not at that point yet.

(Douglas) “Even with the maximum likely call-up over the next couple of months, we’d still be in the 30- to 40 percent range of our National Guard strength. That’s about half the level of some other states. There’s some states that have reached the level where 75 percent of their Guard being deployed. General Rainville believes, as I do, that we have sufficient Guard resources to respond any natural or other emergency here.”

(Dillon) The governor says he would be worried if 75 percent of the Vermont Guard were called up. But he says he doesn’t believe federal law should be changed to give the states more power over the Guard.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

Comments are closed.