A week after he was elected by the Legislature, the next leader of the Vermont National Guard has officially been sworn in.
It was a ceremony orchestrated by and for a national guard that is bracing for major budget cuts. It began with the posting of the colors, and it ended with the passing of the Green Mountain Boy Flag from Major General Thomas Drew to Brigadier General Steven Cray, symbolizing the transfer of leadership.
After weeks of dire warnings about devastating cuts caused by congressional inaction, General Cray took center stage during an event at Camp Johnson in Colchester, and he admitted that he has his work cut out for him.
"It is a tough time for our country with the financial difficulties that lay ahead, and we’re making some tough choices," Cray said. "It looks like the military and the Department of Defense is going to make some choices as well."
Cray is expecting that the massive federal cuts could cost about 500 civilian Guard employees 20 percent of their incomes.
Cray has said budget uncertainty is the biggest challenge he’ll face as commander of the 4,000 men and women of the Guard. Some politicians have said the country would be less safe. Senator Bernie Sanders says the budget cuts are unthinkable.
"I will do everything that I can to make sure that we do not lose 700,000 jobs this year and that we do not see people in the National Guard all over this country have to be furloughed," Sanders said. "That’s a dumb thing to do and we’ll do everything that we can to prevent that."
General Cray will also manage the federal decision expected this spring whether to base the next generation of F-35 fighter jets – the Pentagon’s most expensive weapon system – in South Burlington. The Guard has been fending off mounting criticism from opponents who say noise created by the jets will render hundreds of homes around the airport unsuitable for residential use.
Vermont Edition: The Sequester Cometh