Incoming Vt. guard chief faces fiscal challenges
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Just moments after being elected as the next adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, Brigadier Gen. Steven Cray said Thursday some guard employees were being prepared for the possibility they could be furloughed several days a month if a series of automatic federal budget cuts are imposed as now scheduled.
Cray is set to assume command of the Vermont guard on March 1, the same day the Department of Defense is preparing for the so-called sequestration, a series of congressionally mandated budget cuts that could shorten the workweek for many of the department’s civilian employees across the country and in Vermont.
‘‘Our nation is obviously facing some difficult times, and decisions are going to have to be made. Sequestration is the looming financial threat, if you will,’’ Cray said Thursday outside the House chamber in Montpelier moments after his overwhelming election as adjutant general by a joint session of the House and Senate.
‘‘We’re going to have to prioritize our missions that we do every day for our nation’s defense as well as being prepared here locally to respond,’’ Cray said. ‘‘It’s going to challenge us to look at all the priorities that we have and make some tough choices.’’
Cray said the details of those tough choices are being worked out.
Vermont is the only state in the country where the Legislature elects the adjutant general, the leader of the state guard. For the past several months Cray and other candidates lobbied lawmakers for support.
Cray, of Essex Junction, is a 30-year member of the guard and a longtime F-16 fighter pilot. He is currently the deputy adjutant general.
Cray will succeed Maj. Gen. Thomas Drew, who assumed the job last summer after Michael Dubie resigned to take a Homeland Security job.
On Thursday, before Cray’s election, the names of two other guard officers, Army Guard Col. Darryl Ducharme and retired Col. Michael Bullock, were placed into nomination. There was a fourth name on the printed ballot given to lawmakers, South Burlington attorney James Marc Leas, who is not a member of the guard and ran as an opponent of the possibility the Air Force could send assign the next generation fighter plane, the F-35, to Vermont. Leas was not nominated from the floor.
The Vermont National Guard has about 3,000 members of the Army guard and 1,000 members of the Air National Guard.
The Air Force has said it would like to assign F-35s, the plane that will replace fleets of aging F-16s, to the Vermont Guard. The possibility has provoked vocal opposition from some — the number of opponents is unclear—who feel the plane is too loud for the area around the Burlington International Airport in South Burlington, the home of the Vermont air guard.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, the entire congressional delegation, business groups and others support the F-35.
Cray said he hoped the Air Force would choose Vermont as home to the F-35 and the guard remains committed to easing concerns from the public.
‘‘Obviously, basing the F-35 for the Vermont Air National Guard is critically important to the future of our air guard, a relevant mission that we need to continue for 30 to 40 years into the future,’’ Cray said. ‘‘We have and will continue to work with our community partners. We are part of the community.’’