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How does Vt. National Guard screen members for potential threats?

Published: Jan. 22, 2021 at 6:24 PM EST
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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - Twelve National Guard soldiers were removed from the inaugural security detail in Washington this week over security concerns. While none of them were members of the Vermont contingent, the issue raised questions on how the guard screens its members for potential threats.

Vermont National Guard officials say they use a series of recurring background checks to ensure soldiers aren’t violating the rules and regulations or drifting away from the values and vision of the military.

“When our soldiers join, they do change. Sometimes ideologies change and sometimes behavior changes, sometimes it gets better, sometimes it gets worse,” said Vermont National Guard Lt. Col. Joe Colantoni.

When it gets worse, it’s Colantoni’s job to initiate an investigation. He says most soldiers in low-sensitivity positions are reinvestigated every 10 years with a background check exactly like the one they receive before enlistment. He says the continuous evaluation system helps keep constant tabs on members. “This is an automated system with business rules that’s behind it, that looks into 13 separate areas of our soldiers,” he said.

Colantoni says the most important areas of concern are foreign influence and domestic extremism. Though soldiers are expected to stay apolitical in uniform, when it comes to the expression of ideology, actions weigh heavier than words. Anything that involves violence, the perpetuation of violence, or the indication of violence, is what we would consider an internal threat,” he said.

But patterns matter. Individuals are authorized to post opinions on social media if it’s not done in an official capacity. “A single comment doesn’t always mean there is a threat there,” Colantoni said.

When an action does warrant discipline, ranging from a reprimand to a reduction in grade, the Guard places an emphasis on peer policing. “Our people are a cross-section of society. They have different views, they have different beliefs. We rely very heavily on our leadership to know their people, and if there’s anything that comes up that may be raising a red flag, then they’ll look into those issues,” said Vermont National Guard Brig. Gen. David Manfredi, who oversees both the Vermont Army and Air National Guard. “I feel very confident in our soldiers and our airmen -- that they take their oath to the Constitution to the United States and the Constitution of the state of Vermont very seriously.”

Guard officials say if there were changes to the vetting system, the decision-making would happen at the national level. For now, the only possible changes here are that leaders may turn an increasingly watchful eye on their subordinates, both in their behavior and in their social media activity.

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