MONTPELIER, Vt. — A 35-year military veteran elected Thursday to run the Vermont National Guard promised to win back the community's trust and make the organization more welcoming to women after allegations the institution tolerated sexual harassment and other misconduct.
Vermont Army National Guard Col. Gregory Knight was overwhelmingly elected adjutant general out of a field of four candidates by a joint session of the Vermont House and Senate.
"The focus has to be people and that means recruiting and retention, putting people in and keeping them in and that telling the story of the guard, I think we could do a better job of that and getting back the trust of our community," Knight said outside the House chamber minutes after his election.
Last fall, the online news organization VTDigger.org wrote a series of stories outline allegations the National Guard tolerated sexual harassment, alcohol abuse and retaliation against whistleblowers.
He said the vast majority of people in the guard were "amazing."
"Where we run into problems and where I'm going to see change, is dealing with the folks who aren't part of the solution," he said. "It only takes just a handful of folks to make it bad for everybody and that's been evident in recent reports."
Knight said he hoped to meet with all the women in the National Guard to get their perspectives.
The adjutant general leads the guard, ensuring it's ready for state emergencies and when called to active duty.
Vermont is the only state in the country where the adjutant general is not appointed by the governor. Lawmakers are working on legislation that would change the system.
The Vermont Air National Guard has an authorized strength of about 1,100 service members. The Army National Guard, with an authorized strength of about 2,550, has a number of combat and support units spread across the state.
The Air Guard is preparing to take delivery this fall of F-35 fighter planes, which will replace the aging F-16s it has flown for decades.
Knight said the guard has about 400 vacancies in the Army and Air Guard.