COLCHESTER -- As part of one of the largest Army missions set in over 10 years, Vermonters will soon be deployed for duty.
During a press conference at Camp Johnson July 31, commanders from the Vermont Air National Guard and Army National Guard provided details about their units, which will be the first from the state to deploy, and their orders.
In total, more than 450 airmen and soldiers from Vermont will be sent between October and the early part of 2021 as part of the first phase of the operation.
“Most of our training exercises outside of Vermont have been significantly altered or canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19, but our deployments have not,” said Capt. Mike Arcovitch, public affairs officer for the Vermont National Guard, in the onset of the press conference. “We will remain on track to support all the missions we have been assigned. We will also continue supporting the state of Vermont, in response to COVID-19.”
Before introducing the commanders, Arcovitch went on to say, “In the fall of 2019, the Vermont Army National Guard received a notification of sourcing to inform us that many soldiers from Vermont would likely deploy in 2021. We recently received mobilization orders for the first units.”
Col. David Shevchik, commander of the 158th Fighter Wing of the Vermont Air National Guard, shared two updates about his unit. He said that, in addition to the large number of airmen that are to be deployed in October, an additionally-estimated 250 of the 950 airmen from the fighter wing would be sent to the Volk Field Air National Guard Base in Juneau County, Wisconsin next week to participate in a two-week training session known as “Northern Lightning.”
Northern Lightning places emphasis on trainees’ ability to use fifth-generation aircrafts in combat-based training scenarios at a tactical level, readying them for real-world missions. Since they will be there, Shevchik says there will not be any locally-scheduled F-35 flying operations, such as seen in the skies over Chittenden County and beyond for almost the last year, between Aug. 8-20.
Schevchik also said that the airmen sent to Wisconsin will be following guidance from multiple agencies as well as using “strict risk mitigation measures to ensure the safety and well being of [the] airmen, their families, and communities.”
The colonel went on to talk about how more than 70 members of the 158th Fighter Wing are also set to be deployed in October to US Air Force Europe, Asia, and Central command areas of responsibility. In those regions, the airmen will be supporting expeditionary support combat operations with their knowledge of logistics, civil engineering, communications, contracting and finance, support and services, supply, ground and air transportation, and medical career fields. It’s expected that they will all return to the U.S. by next summer.
“These are big announcements for the wing, because of their importance and the impact they will have on our families and our communities,” said Shevchik. “But this is what we train for, and this is what we prepare for. We're eager and ready to answer the call to serve. I want to thank the families, the employers, and the community supporting the airmen deploying. Your support will ensure these brave women and men remain focused and ready as they answer our nation's call.”
On the Army National Guard side of things, Lt. Col. Matthew Wignall, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry (Mountain) of the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, first said that nearly 350 soldiers from Vermont would be joining over 150 others from New Hampshire and Maine as part of a task team that will be deployed in the first quarter of 2021.
The commander said his troops will be stationed throughout the U.S. Central Command region -- an area which spans 27 nations from the Horn of Africa through the Arabian Gulf region -- for about 12 months as part of Operation Spartan Shield. Over the last few weeks, they have been spending time at Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho for routine train-up in preparing for the deployment.
“We're honored and we're proud to have received this mission,” said Wignall. “Many of our soldiers in the battalion, and out, have been in support of the COVID mission over the past several months. And we'll pivot now to focus on train-up for the deployment, as we've been doing, with no distraction to the continued support to the COVID mission. I'm proud of the motivation for our soldiers to serve both their community and serve to support a federal mission like this. It really speaks to their versatility and their resilience.”
Lt. Col. Doran Metzger added that 34 soldiers of the 172nd Law Enforcement Detachment, which is under control of the 86th Troop Command, Garrison Support Command, will also be deployed in the first quarter of 2021. They will be heading to the U.S. European Command for 12 months as part of Operation Freedom Sentinel.
The detachment shifted from combat military police responsibilities to having a mission that more closely mirrors the role of a “civilian” police officer in 2016. 11 of the soldiers going over next year are law enforcement officers from state and local agencies, including New Hampshire State Trooper and 1st Lt. Shawn Slaney who commands the unit.
Arcovitch said that Friday’s briefers could not delve too far into specifics as to where the soldiers and airmen would be going “because of operational security,” but Wignall made it clear what sort of situation they will be going into.
“Make no mistake,” said Wignall. “We're deploying to a combat zone.” He added, “[It’s a] mission we're prepared for; it's a mission that's akin to our federal missions. No change to what we do habitually.”
Along with thanking the men and women who are set to be deployed, all three commanders also thoroughly thanked the families of the soldiers and airmen and emphasized the units’ family readiness groups, the state’s readiness programs, and numerous outreach centers in Vermont which can help them when needed.
“You're the most essential part of the team,” said Shevchik, “and please know that you are not alone. With the many uncertainties our state and nation faces at this time, know that we're here for you.”