Vermont National Guard officials say there is little they can do to prepare for any reduction in personnel that could come from sweeping defense changes proposed by the Obama administration until they learn more about it.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a series of cuts Monday that would reduce the size of the active duty Army, as well as the National Guard and Reserve, to pre-World War II levels.
The proposal calls for a 5.6 percent reduction in Army National Guard troops, from 355,000 to 335,000 by 2017. It would reduce Army Reserve strength by about 10,000, according to published reports. The Vermont National Guard and Air Guard have about 4,000 members combined. If 5.6 percent were cut across the board, that would be a reduction in Vermont troops of more than 200.
Vermont Guard officials said there is little they can do until they know how the decision will affect local bases, if at all.
Should Hagel's proposal to reduce defense spending be approved, the National Guard Bureau would decide how to implement the cuts, Vermont National Guard Capt. Dyana Allen said Tuesday.
"Until we hear from the Guard Bureau, we are in a holding pattern," Allen said. She added that the Guard is at least looking at best-case and worst-case scenarios. Allen said the bureau could allocate the cuts based on need, rather than across the board.
The state's congressional delegation and Gov. Peter Shumlin strongly opposed any reduction in Guard troops.
"I am not in favor of these proposed cuts," Shumlin said in a statement. "I am proud of the Vermont National Guard and the role our troops continue to play in keeping our nation safe and Vermonters protected during storms and other crises here at home."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the plan was "disappointing" and pointed to the Vermont Guard's role in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"As co-chair of the Senate National Guard Caucus and as one who has closely watched the phenomenal work of the Guard in Vermont and other states, I believe the Senate should not and cannot support a long-term plan that guts our citizen-soldier force," Leahy said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said the Pentagon has it backward.
"To my mind, we should be growing - rather than shrinking - the National Guard," Sanders said in a statement. "This would help relieve the strain of two decade-long wars on Guard units, ensure our ability to defend our country in a cost-effective manner and enhance the Guard's ability to respond to disasters at home."
One defense program not on the chopping block is the deployment of the Air Force F-35 fighter jet. The Pentagon in December awarded 18 to 24 of the next-generation warplanes to the Vermont Air Guard. They are expected to begin arriving in 2020.