The next leader of the Vermont National Guard said he plans to reform an organization that came under fire last year after a series of stories alleging sexual harassment and other misconduct.
State lawmakers Thursday elected Col. Greg Knight to serve as adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard. The Huntington resident beat out three other candidates vying for the position in an election thrust into the spotlight after an investigation by VTDigger.
Stories by the news organization quoted numerous female Guard members, many of whom alleged that working conditions at the National Guard were hostile to women. Knight said Thursday that he plans a comprehensive review of policies and procedures at the organization.
“It only takes just a handful of folks to make it bad for everybody, and that’s been evidenced in recent reports, so that’s something that first and foremost we can fix,” Knight said Thursday.
Knight said he’ll also focus on recruitment and retention at the Guard, which has 400 vacant positions. He said a new tuition-assistance program for Guard members, passed by lawmakers last year, will help lure candidates to those jobs.
“The focus has to be people, and that means recruiting and retention, putting people in and keeping them in, and telling the story of the Guard. I think we’re going to do a better job of that,” Knight said.
Prior to the vote Thursday, Addison County Sen. Ruth Hardy urged lawmakers to cast a ballot for Knight.
Hardy said she pressed Knight about what he’d do about “rampant sexism” in the Guard, “and how he would bring about cultural change and equitable leadership to the Guard.”
“He does not pretend to have all the answers or fancy talking points,” Hardy said. “But he does have the commitment to bring about change, collaboration and transparency, and to ensure that the women in the Guard are heard and safe and have equal opportunities to succeed and lead.”
A reporter asked Knight Thursday whether he agreed with Hardy’s statement that sexism at the Guard is "rampant."
“Is it rampant? There’s enough to be of concern,” Knight said. “And we’re going to be focused on getting that fixed.”
Knight has served in the U.S. Army for more than 30 years, both as an enlisted soldier and as an officer. He replaces the outgoing Vermont adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, who is retiring.
Vermont is the only state in country where lawmakers elect the leader of a state National Guard. Gov. Phil Scott and lawmakers have called for changes to that system.