Vermont Air Guard will stay open

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(Host) When the Department of Defense released a list of military base closings and realignments Friday, Vermont Guard officials were relieved to find that the state’s air guard is not only spared, but slated for expansion.

The Pentagon has recommended that more than 50 full-time positions be added to the Vermont unit, along with nearly 100 part-time guard openings.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Rainville) “We all breathed a sigh of relief here in Vermont. This is a happy day for the Vermont Guard and the Green Mountain Boys.”

(Zind) Adjutant General Martha Rainville says she learned that the Vermont Air Guard had been spared from cuts only an hour before the closure list was released publicly.

The future of the Vermont Army Guard wasn’t at stake in this round of cuts, but Rainville was concerned that as a so-called Block 25 unit – meaning a unit with older aircraft – the Vermont Air Guard was vulnerable.

The Air Guard’s F-16 fighters are more than 20 years old.

Once the proposed closures are implemented, the state’s air guard becomes the only remaining Block 25 unit in the nation. Guard officials like group commander Colonel Douglas Fick hope that means Vermont is in line to get newer aircraft.

(Fick) “What we expect to see out of this is a lot of iron, F-16s, moving around. We’re going to be the only Block 25 unit, but with all that iron flow out there, I would not be surprised in the future to see some iron come our way.”

(Zind) The list submitted Friday by the Pentagon must be approved by the President and Congress. It’s likely there will be some changes as other states lobby to keep open facilities that are slated for closure. But Rainville says she’s confident the Vermont Air Guard won’t be added to the list as the changes are reviewed.

Rainville says the decision to expand the Vermont unit is due to a combination of factors: including location, the guard’s performance, future military needs and the Vermont guard’s efforts to stay current.

(Rainville) “It’s never one thing, which is why we’ve really tried to be working this over a period of time and positioning ourselves well for this. Having aimed for doing the right thing that’s right for Vermont and right for the guard and right for the country, we’ve hit it.”

(Zind) In recent years, millions of dollars have been spent to upgrade guard facilities at Burlington Airport. The Vermont Air Guard also has a detachment at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. Officials say it’s unclear whether that assignment will change under the recommendations released Friday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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