VTANG preps for short-notice deployment

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Gov.-elect Phil Scott and Vermont Air National Guard Major Gen. Steven Cray address the upcoming deployment last week. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Gov.-elect Phil Scott and Vermont Air National Guard Major Gen. Steven Cray address the upcoming deployment last week. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

A few hundred airmen from the 158th Fighter Wing of the Vermont Air National Guard will be deployed overseas in the coming weeks, officials announced last week.

The airmen will be sent to the United States Central Command, Major Gen. Steven Cray said at a press conference. That area includes Northern Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The mission will likely last for a few months, Cray said.

Officials would not specify the total number of Colchester airmen deploying but confirmed at least one resident would be sent on this mission. In 2014, 56 VTANG airmen called Colchester home, the second highest total in any town in Vermont or New York.

The mission is considered “short-notice,” a non-technical term generally meaning the assignment came less than 30 days before deployment, Cray said. He first got word of a potential deployment a few weeks ago. The mission was confirmed early last week.

“I am extremely proud of the wing leadership and our airmen, who have stepped up for a mission that they are trained to do,” Cray said.

The fighter wing boasts 1,100 airmen. Around 100 are already deployed on missions around the world, according to officials.

The airmen set to deploy include pilots, mechanics, intelligence and communications officials.

“I asked [the airmen] to find a way to say ‘yes,’” Col. Patrick Guinee said of the upcoming mission. “After that, it was their choice.”

The few hundred deployment slots were filled within hours by volunteers, he added.

Governor-elect Phil Scott and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) attended last week’s press conference, offering gratitude to the airmen and their families. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy sent written statements of support.

“There’s never a good, opportune time for the Guard to be deployed, and certainly around the holidays is one of those moments when we reflect on the challenges ahead,” Scott said. “We’re very proud of what the Guard has done for us as a state, and we want to recognize that we’re here for their families while they are away.”

After offering his own thanks, Welch took questions from reporters about President-elect Donald Trump, who will take over as commander in chief of the military on January 20.

“The American people chose him, so we’ve got to make the best of this,” Welch said of Trump. “He doesn’t have any experience, let’s hope he gets some good advice.”

VTANG officials could not confirm whether the upcoming mission would extend beyond Inauguration Day next month.