(Host) All this week, Vermont Public Radio is exploring how the war in Iraq is touching the lives of people here at home. In the first part of our series, Bob Kinzel looks at how the life of Vermont National Guard Adjutant General Martha Rainville has been dramatically changed by the war.
(Kinzel) When Martha Rainville was elected to her fourth term as Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard in February of 2003, there were indications that her duties and responsibilities might quickly change as a possible war with Iraq loomed on the horizon. Instead of focusing on ways to improve the efficiency of Guard programs, as she had in her first three terms in office, Rainville would soon be preparing hundreds of soldiers for service in the Middle East.
It’s a highly visible role. At deployment ceremonies and funerals, Rainville has become the public face of the Guard in the minds of many Vermonters. She says it’s difficult but essential:
(Rainville) “I feel very gratified with the support that comes from people that come up to you in the grocery store or wherever you are – the dry cleaners – and want to express their support for the soldiers and airmen and just thank me. One lady at church just hugged me, just wanting to express some emotion at what was happening. At the same time, it sometimes catches me by surprise or there are days when you just don’t feel like talking to anybody – even your own family. And you just can’t do that because it is important that people can talk to me.”
(Kinzel) Deployments have been marked by a special moment when Rainville presents the Vermont flag to the commander of the unit. Recently the Guard held its largest deployment since World War II. More than 600 soldiers and their families attended a ceremony at Norwich University in Northfield.
It was an event where emotions ran very high as families cherished their remaining moments together. Throughout the ceremony, Rainville maintained a stoic appearance but she says the intensity of the moment affected her privately:
(Rainville) “Beneath the surface is, I think, all the emotion that I see around me. I guess I’m very conscious of trying to control myself because if I ever let go, there would be no getting it back for awhile. I want to respect what they’re going through and the last thing they need to see is me being tearful, emotional or whatever. What they need to see is just the pride that I have in them. If afterward I get in the car to come home and I’m shaking a little bit, that’s okay. But the families and the soldiers make it all worthwhile.”
(Kinzel) For Rainville, there’s a personal responsibility for sending troops to a dangerous part of the world and she focuses on the families of the soldiers as a way to help:
(Rainville) “And that’s why we all care about their families. I can’t stop them from going but while they’re gone I can do my best to highlight the needs of families and make sure the programs and resources are there so that the soldiers don’t have to worry about their families’ wellbeing while they’re gone.”
(Kinzel) Rainville says she often thinks about whether the human cost of the deployments outweighs the mission, but she says it would be inappropriate for her to publicly raise this question. However, Rainville is not reluctant to express her belief that some Guard units have been sent into war without the proper equipment:
(Rainville) “I’m frustrated with the system that couldn’t foresee the need for this and went ahead and moved in with soldiers when we had the technology. We just didn’t have the plan or have the capability. And again, it goes back to the years of resourcing and resourcing priorities and not putting the priority on that type of equipment. And that’s something that I think leaders have to live with right now and it’s going to take us a few more months to get well.”
(Kinzel) The Adjutant General of the Vermont Guard is elected by lawmakers every two years. As challenging as this term has been, Rainville says there’s no doubt that she’ll seek another one this winter:
(Rainville) “I would like to do it again for another term. I’m going to be sending my letter in to ask to be on the ballot for two more years. Obviously in February,, I’m up for re-election by the Legislature so I would like to continue on and continue contributing and helping as this war goes on.”
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.
On Tuesday in our series on “The Home Front,” VPR’s Steve Zind talks with a Guard family about the impact of a war injury.