Despite a lack of resources for sexual harassment and assault prevention programs and a perceived sense of favoritism within the organization, the command climate at the Vermont National Guard is generally “positive,” according to a long-awaited report.
In late 2019 following media reports of a toxic atmosphere for women, especially with regard to sexual harassment and assault, Adjutant General Gregory Knight called for an assessment of the Guard’s command climate and systems. Knight took command of the Guard earlier that year with a promise to change the organization’s culture and make it more accommodating to women.
The 113-page document found that some Army National Guard units lacked understanding of the process for reporting sexual assaults, and while service members generally found sexual assault prevention and response to be adequate, in some instances the local command “did not attend to, let alone prioritize, victims’ needs and interest.”
The report also noted that the Guard’s written workplace harassment policies have not kept up with federal law and Department of Defense regulations and “do not provide adequate protections for complainants.” Moreover, the programs lack adequate resources, qualified personnel and “command emphasis.”
A “significant number” of members said perceptions of a “good old boy” network within the Guard eroded trust and led to fears of reprisal or retaliation, or marginalization.
However, the study team reported that it did not find “specific adverse effects” due to deficiencies in sexual assault and other misconduct programs.
“Despite the issues with program compliance, the overall climate within the Vermont National Guard is positive. With some exceptions, service members generally reported confidence and trust in their immediate leaders, which has resulted in high retention across the force,” the report said.
The report did note that how the Guard reports and tracks sexual assault allegations has improved since 2017, and that an “adequate number” of Guard members were satisfied withe their jobs and trusted leadership. The report includes nearly three dozen recommendations, including that it conduct reviews of its organizational structure, accountability practices and recruitment and retention policies.
The report also concluded that greater transparency in decision making and regulatory compliance, “especially in personnel management” would improve confidence in the command’s leadership.