Iraq war touches virtually everyone in Vermont

By Wilson Ring
The Associated Press

MONTPELIER — Vermont National Guard Master Sgt. Jennifer Brownell isn't one of the soldiers being called to active duty for service in Iraq or another Middle Eastern country. But her daughter is.

Spec. Margaret Brownell, 20, is in training in Mississippi before being sent to Kuwait where her unit is expected to provide base security for up to a year.

The Brownells are the only mother-daughter pair in the Vermont National Guard and are believed to be one of the few such pairs anywhere in the National Guard.

And the Brownells share a famous relative: Vermont's independent U.S. Sen. James Jeffords. Jennifer Brownell's aunt is Jeffords wife, Liz.

“It really hits home when you have the junior senator's great niece going,” Jennifer Brownell said. “It's amazing that nobody is untouched by the impact of these deployments.”

Jeffords' personal connection to the deployments is a perfect example of how the war in Iraq, through the National Guard, as well as the active duty military, touches just about everyone in Vermont.

But the shared connection helps ensure that the soldiers and their families receive the support they need from their neighbors, the National Guard and the state, officials say.

“We've got just about every town and city represented with our deployments,” said National Guard Deputy Chief of Staff Col. Jon Farnham. “Everyone knows somebody or has an employee or their spouse is related to someone. So it's either through in-laws or employees or acquaintances. Everybody has been touched by it.”

Between the Army and Air Guard, the Vermont National Guard has about 4,000 members, per capita one of the highest rates in the nation.

John Macleod of the Vermont chapter of the Employee Support of the Guard and Reserve said he spoke recently to a service club in Morrisville.

“We asked how many knew people who had been mobilized. More than half the crowd raised their hands,” Macleod said.

“I've often said the Vermont National Guard is like a family,” said Gov. Jim Douglas.

The governor said that as far as he knew he didn't have any relatives called up by the Guard, but he knew a number of people now on active duty or due to be called up.

He said eight state troopers are on active duty as well as a number of correctional officers. The son of a state senator has been called to duty. There's an attorney in state government and one of the Statehouse security guards.

“In some families more than one member is in the Guard and has been activated,” the governor said. “That's why it's so important to support the Guard, especially at this time of year.”

And Farnham said Vermonters have been stepping up to help their friends and relatives who are heading to war, as well as the family members who have been left behind.

“The fact that the real center of gravity is around the holidays makes it even more busy, more complex. We're having a hard time keeping up with the people who want to help out,” Farnham said.