MONTPELIER -- The race to become the next adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard kicked off Friday when a long-serving Air Guard general and a former Army Guard general said they would each seek election to the post in the upcoming session of the state Legislature.
There is still time for other candidates to join the race to succeed Adjutant Gen. Thomas Drew, who is not seeking re-election. But so far Air Guard Brig. Gen. Steven Cray, of Essex Junction, and former Army Guard Brig. Gen. Jonathan Farnham are the only announced candidates.
If no other candidates emerge, the race between Cray and Farnham sets up a race between the two long-time colleagues and representatives of the two branches of the 4,000-member Vermont National Guard.
Both men are graduates of the University of Vermont and both were commissioned as officers in the early 1980s. Both have served overseas during the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and both have experience with the guard’s role in responding to state emergencies.
"I’ve spent a career getting the necessary education, the necessary leadership positions, deploying, things like that to make myself a candidate," Cray said.
Farnham left the military arm of the guard in the spring of 2011 after serving a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan as a general officer and now works as a civilian employee of the guard. He said he’s served in almost every leadership position the guard has.
"I’ve commanded at every level in the guard," Farnham said.
In Vermont, the adjutant general is chosen by a paper ballot of the 180 members of the Legislature. This year the vote is scheduled for Feb. 21. Both Cray and Farnham said they had already begun speaking with lawmakers about their candidacies.
The winner will succeed Maj. Gen. Thomas Drew, who assumed the job last summer after former Adjutant General Michael Dubie resigned to take a Homeland Security job.
The election comes at a time when the guard is facing challenges of the end of its combat roles in Iraq and Afghanistan while the U.S. defense establishment is facing an uncertain financial future.
"I think the biggest challenge facing us is the fiscal challenges facing our nation and how the pressures of that is going to affect our Department of Defense," Cray said. "We’ve already seen that type of pressure from the Air Force being applied to the Air National Guard, and we expect the same to happen on the Army side in the next couple of years."
Farnham echoed concern about the financial challenges facing the guard. He also said he wants to make sure that the state’s veterans and their families are taken care of and that the guard is ready for the next conflict.
"Some of these younger men and women, it’s going to be a challenge to keep them focused on what’s over the next horizon," Farnham said. "It’s easy to get ready when you know you are going overseas. We want to maintain that edge."