Clerk may be deployed to Iraq (1/28/10)

Departure date uncertain for Deb Beckett

Jan. 28, 2010

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Williston Town Clerk Deb Beckett has received notice that she will deploy to Iraq with a Vermont Army National Guard air ambulance unit.

The timing of the deployment remains murky and a Guard spokesman emphasized that plans to send the unit to Iraq could change. It would be Beckett’s second overseas assignment. She was sent to Kuwait in 2004.

Beckett said she was initially told that she would leave in January 2011. That was later changed to August of this year, and Beckett notified town officials and staff this month that she would step down as clerk in April when she goes on active duty status.

But last week, Beckett said she was told the deployment schedule would change yet again. She did not know when she would leave but hoped to have more information next month.

Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Lloyd Goodrow declined to provide further details other than to say roughly 50 members of the unit are set to be deployed at some unspecified date.

“I’m not in a position to announce or confirm anything,” he said, adding that the unit’s deployment schedule has already changed multiple times since soldiers were first notified months ago.

Goodrow urged the Observer to delay publishing a story about the deployment until an official announcement was made. He said the deployment’s timing could change or even be cancelled because of evolving military plans.

The Observer in fact did delay publishing a story for months after learning of the deployment.

But over the past month, Beckett’s pending deployment has been noted in another newspaper’s account of legislation that would change primary dates to ensure overseas soldiers’ ballots are counted. She has notified her staff of the deployment. Town Manager Rick McGuire told the Selectboard, making information about Beckett’s deployment part of the public record, available to anyone reviewing meeting minutes.

Goodrow said guard members are encouraged to inform employers about deployments. Despite Beckett’s position as a public official, he said it was not appropriate for her to release information to the media about the military assignment.

“One of her roles is not discussing it with the news media,” Goodrow said.

Any deployment over the next year likely would last through the end of her three-year term as town clerk, which expires in March 2011. Beckett said she would seek another term.

“I would like to run again even if I’m deployed,” she said. “I’ve got to figure out how to do that.”

More immediately, Beckett said she has arranged to have her duties covered by other employees. Kathy Boyden, a longtime assistant clerk, would serve as acting town clerk.

Beckett is also president of the Williston Community Food Shelf. She said she plans to step down in February when her term ends, but she will stay involved with the organization.

The air ambulance unit Beckett is assigned to, based at Burlington International Airport, transports wounded soldiers using Blackhawk helicopters.

Beckett said she would have an administrative role with the unit, keeping records and other duties.

Beckett has been Williston’s town clerk since 1999. She first enlisted in the Vermont Army National Guard in 1981 and has been a member for most of the time since except for a few years in the mid-’80s and a more recent stint on inactive duty.

The new deployment would be easier to handle than her tour of duty in Kuwait, Beckett said. Her children, Sean and Ellie, are now grown and have gone off to college. Though leaving her husband Dave behind won’t be easy, Beckett said the previous deployment at least makes the situation more familiar.

“Pretty much every Vermont Guard member has done a second or third deployment,” she said. “If we’ll be doing something useful, I’m happy to do it.”