Operations Assessment of Vermont National Guard Released
When Major General Greg Knight was confirmed by the state Legislature as the Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard in 2019, one of the first things he ordered was an independent review of its command climate and systems. The report was released to Guard members over the weekend and to the public on Monday.
The 113-page assessment of the Vermont National Guard conducted by the National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations offers a mixed review of command and morale in the Vermont Air and Army National Guard staff. According to the report while “climate and culture...is generally sound...there is room for improvement.”
In November 2019, just months after taking command, Adjutant General Gregory Knight asked the National Guard Bureau for a blunt assessment of the Guard’s operations. “It’s my belief that any leader takes on their position with the intent of improving the organization. So for instance an officer assuming command is required by regulation to conduct a climate survey within six months. I took a different approach. Rather than doing a regular climate survey I asked for an outside assessment by National Guard Bureau to come in and take a look at the organization. It provides an objective in depth analysis into the areas I believe were deficient and I knew we could improve. And I also asked for this knowing that it’s going to be released to the public.”
During interviews, investigators encountered perceptions of a hostile work environment leading to fear of reprisal, retaliation and “a strong perception of favoritism or a ‘good old boy’ network.” That resulted in feelings of marginalization, perceptions of favoritism and therefore less chance of advancement. General Knight said the underlying dysfunction implied in those comments concerns him most. “Not so much the good old boy network but there’s an undercurrent there of toxic leaders, folks that are perhaps not treating others as they should. And that, that was a little disheartening for me because we’d been working very diligently to insure that doesn’t happen in the past two years. So that’s something we’re going to revisit. I think a way for me to get at that is with other senior leaders in both the Air and Army National Guard is to do small group sessions in an informal setting where folks perhaps a little more willing to be forthcoming with information and give me some recommendations on how we can, how we can fix things.”
The assessment is critical of the Vermont Guard’s sexual assault and harassment prevention and response. A number of failures were documented and the reports states “local command did not attend to, let alone prioritize, victims’ needs and interests.”
Overall there are 35 recommendations outlined in the report. Knight noted that the Vermont Guard is not required to act on any of them but emphasized he requested it to find and correct deficiencies. Joint Staff Director Brig. General David Manfredi says they have already assigned staff to work on solutions. “They’ve thus far gone through an initial review of the report to get after fixing or addressing those recommendations and what are we going to do in the future going forward. Some will be quick and easy. A lot of those are already in the process. Some of those will be longer term.”
General Knight says command staff will address the low morale, discipline and transparency issues detailed in the assessment. “My goal, my job here, my responsibility is to make it an organization that’s fair, equitable and just and that provides opportunity for everybody. Having an outside assessment made absolute sense. It’s okay to have a hard conversation. I’m okay being uncomfortable. We’ve got to get the rest of the organization okay and start sharing information so we can all get to the same end state.”