Vermont Guard opens range for showcase, recruitment effort

Published: Sep. 10, 2023 at 11:51 PM EDT
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JERICHO, Vt. (WCAX) - The Vermont National Guard opened the doors to their Ethan Allen Firing Range on Sunday in hopes of inspiring recruitment.

Swarms of people plugged their ears as a mortar shell exploded over a field in Jericho. The demonstration was part of the Vermont National Guard’s annual Soldier Showcase. A machine gun firing, tree demolition and hands-on displays of tanks and equipment were some other crowd favorites.

Jill Naugle traveled from Massachusetts to see her son, a soldier, at work.

“It makes my heart thump,” said Naugle. “I love to watch stuff being blown up. It’s great. I’m really excited to be here, I couldn’t wait to come.”

Judy Knoff, the mother of another soldier, was eager to see what happens behind the scenes at the range.

“We can always bring him to the gate but we can never go past the gate, so it’s always been kind of a mystery to us to see what goes on in here,” said Knoff. “It’s kind of exciting to get in and be able to see what they’re doing.”

The showcase is part of a bigger effort to draw more people into the Vermont National Guard, which is facing growing recruitment challenges.

Col. Leonard Poirier says there are currently around 600 open positions, a major uptick from last fall’s 450.

“Really as we get farther from 9/11, I think frankly, the idea and the desire to serve seems to be reducing in the American population,” Poirier said.

Poirier hopes seeing soldiers in action and interacting with equipment entices applicants.

“Just to show those to people who are interested in joining or just interested in the military in general,” said Poirier. “The intent is really trying to target the audience that can join us and help fill our ranks.”

Vermont National Guard officials say improving recruitment would help them continue pumping money into the state, which saw more than $2 million last year through the Guard’s payroll and other investments.