Four candidates faced their final interview for the Vermont National Guard's top job Thursday night, pitching themselves to the House committee on military affairs.
The candidates: retired Army Colonel Mike Bullock of Hinesburg, current Air Guard Brigadier General Steven Cray of Essex Junction, Col. Darryl Ducharme of Williston, and the new comer civilian James Leas were questioned on topics from sexual assault in the military, to helping guard families, to the controversial F-35.
"It's an investment in Vermont for the next 30 years," said Cray. "It's critical to the airport and to the economics that surround it, it's critical to the businesses."
The Air Force is set to make its decision this spring whether the new fighter jet will land here. Ducharme and Cray, both who have current roles in the Guard, fear that losing the F-35 jets could mean cuts to the Guard's staffing and funding in the future.
"If we cannot find an alternate mission for them," warned Ducharme, "the air wing brings about $73 million in federal money to the state and it will have an impact on the communities and neighborhoods that we have," he said.
But Bullock, who is a retired Army Colonel said he would need to investigate further.
"I would encourage an establishment of a commission with stakeholders internal and external to the guard to discuss these issues," Bullock stated to the committee.
But the one civilian candidate and activist, James Leas, has been outspoken against F-35s and war in the past. He said he would try to stop the jets from coming to Vermont if he were in charge of the Guard.
"The F-35 jets will cause nearly 3,000 homes and 7,000 people to be in a noise zone that the Air Force and the FAA say is generally not considered suitable for residential use," Leas said.
Lawmakers are set to vote on the position next Thursday.