JDEC Newsletter August 2021

Spc. Mike Liu stands for a photo in front of the 124th Regional Training Institute at Camp Johnson, Vermont, May 20, 2021. Liu, a native of Anshan, China, joined the Vermont Army National Guard through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, which allows non-U.S. citizens with certain skills to enlist and apply for citizenship. He currently attends Army Officer Candidate School and plans to become an ordnance officer when he graduates in 2022.
The Navajo Code Talkers

The Navajo Code Talkers

By 2LT Robert Dornfried, SEPM for the American Indian/Alaska Natives Employee Program

National Navajo Code Talkers Day is August 14, 2021. As the observance approaches, we should take a moment to recognize the sacrifices and contributions of the nearly 25,000 Native Americans who served in the Armed Forces during WWII. In the words of Signal Officer Major Howard Connor, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”

Despite the checkered past of the United States Government’s treatment, Native Americans have served nobly in the military as loyal allies and volunteers. From the French-Indian War and Revolutionary War of the 18th century, through the Civil War and into the 20th century, Native Americans were on the frontlines side by side their fellow comrades. As a footnote of their sense of duty, proportional to overall population, Native Americans enlisted at the highest rate of any demographic group during World War II, and would prove instrumental in the Pacific Theater.

The tradition of the Navajo Code Talkers was born during World War I as over two dozen Native American tribes were consolidated in military service and utilized as top-secret code talkers. Because German counter-intelligence had successfully cracked all previous U.S. English-speaking codes, this creative solution proved indecipherable to German intelligence.

World War II presented another opportunity for Native Americans to re-prove their patriotism, and pave the way for further democratic reforms and integration throughout the remainder of the 20th century. Just as African-Americans, women, and Asian-Americans fought bravely throughout World War II, the highly-classified service of Native American code talkers in both theaters of operations enabled the United States to emerge victorious by maintaining real-time communication indecipherable to the enemy, especially the Japanese. Had the Navajo been captured, many were prepared to commit suicide rather than divulge information to the Japanese who would surely attempt to extract it at any cost.

Of the Native American tribes, the Navajo filled the bulk of the Signal Corps’ and Intelligence ranks, yet several other Native American tribes from the across the United States, including the Cherokee, Kiowa, Winnebago, Creek, Chippewa, Seminole, Hope, Lakota, Dakota, Menominee, Oneida, Pawnee, Sac, Fox and Choctaw served with distinction. Originally recruited and trained exclusively by the Army, the Marine Corps and Navy quickly followed suit, and by 1942 Navajo Code Talkers were deployed heavily in the Pacific Theater against Imperial Japan. Code Talkers quickly became a target for enemy snipers, who often sought out officers, medics, and code talkers. They served in every corner of the globe during the conflict. From the desert of North Africa with the 34th Infantry Division, to the D-Day landings in 1944, Code Talkers were there.

On the battlefield, Code Talkers were highly trained and efficient transmitters, having developed their own alphabet and a Navajo-English dictionary for military translation at higher echelons. The uniform alphabet and terminology utilized by the Navajo, for example “besh-lo” meant “submarine”, enabled them to quickly translate, with precision accuracy, messages to and from command posts.

As the war came to a close, the United States Government recognized the enormous contributions of the Navajo Code Talkers, and chose to classify the endeavor should the program need to be revived for a future conflict during the looming Cold War. It wasn’t until 1968 that the code talker program was declassified, and not until 2001 that Congressional Gold Medals were issued to living and deceased members. Finally on June 18, 2002, the U.S. Congress enacted the Code Talkers Recognition Act and in 2013 the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony awarded over 33 tribes the nation’s highest civilian honor. In the words of World War Two Native-American veteran Carl Gorman, “We never thought we were special; we were just Marines doing our job.”

Our New Anti-Harassment Policy

By Rick Brehm, Labor Relations Specialist

The prevention of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation is a top priority at the Vermont National Guard. Recently, we published a comprehensive Harassment Reporting and Response Plan to address these serious issues.

The plan is a powerful and unique tool to combat harassment because it applies to all of us - whether we experience, witness, or simply become aware of an incident of harassment. It outlines different forms of prohibited conducted and provides examples. Once on notice of an incident, it requires managers, supervisors, and commanders to file a report within 24-hours.

Our human resources team is ready to help. But we cannot address harassing conduct without everyone's commitment. Please take a minute to review the Plan and join us in our effort to make VTNG a positive and productive work environment.

Stonewall Inn

The Epicenter of Change

By Duffy Jamieson, the State Equal Employment Manager

Stonewall Inn

Stonewall Inn is a cozy neighborhood bar tucked in Greenwich Village where you can gather with friends, listen to music on the jukebox, and enjoy an IPA. It’s a place where you can sit at the bar, and perhaps, remain invisible. But, a plaque outside the front door lets you know this is not just an ordinary bar in the village. It’s the place where the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual or allies) community would gather and hide from a society that made being “out” illegal.

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, Stonewall was ground zero for the riots that erupted and surprised a nation. On that summer night, members of the LGBTQIA community were confronted with yet another police raid – the second one that week. As before, patrons and employees were rounded up, roughed up, and hauled away. This time, though, they took a stand. After being forced out of the bar, they turned on the police and targeted them with whatever they could find on the street. Over the next several days demonstrations broke out throughout New York City. For many, the Stonewall Inn became the place where the gay liberation movement and modern fight for LGBTQIA rights began.

Commemorating the Stonewall uprising could have focused on the violence and injustice the LGBTQIA community has endured throughout history. Instead, protests have evolved into celebrations. Every June, communities celebrate the self-affirmation, dignity, equality, and visibility of the community. “Pride” is about being one’s truest self regardless of societal conventions.

This past June, Pride Month marked its 52nd anniversary. In 2021, there have been some remarkable accomplishments for the LGBTQIA community. Among the highlights:

  • A 2021 Gallup poll found that 70% of Americans approve of same-sex marriage.
  • The San Francisco Giants marked the beginning of Pride Month with a Pride patch and black caps with a rainbow version of their logo.
  • Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out as gay.
  • New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard is the first ever transgender athlete picked to compete at an Olympics.
  • Kataluna Enriquez, an openly transgender woman, was crowned the winner of the Miss Nevada USA pageant.
  • The Air Force honored a Vietnam War veteran, who was previously kicked out for being gay, with a distinguished service record.
  • Maj. Gen. Tammy Smith, the Army’s first openly gay general, celebrated her retirement with her wife by her side.

The patrons who started the uprising in 1969 would be proud of these accomplishments and how the movement has developed. Undoubtedly, they would also being looking for the new generation of invisible people gathering at the Stonewalls around the country. Even with so many victories, there are still voices in LGBTQIA community (like Queer People of Color, nonbinary and intersex individuals, and the trans community) that have yet to be fully heard.

Here at the VTNG, we should not have to wait until June to show our support for our LGBTQIA colleagues. Every day we can advocate to make all employees feel safe, embraced, heard, and seen. As the Stonewall Inn plaque states, Pride Month and the Stonewall riots should be about “increased visibility for the community that continues to resonate in the struggle for equality.”

SSG Selena Correa

The Challenges of Diversity

By SSG Selena Correa, SEPM for the Black Employee Program

The United States has steadily become a place where people from all walks of life, colors, creeds, and religions call home. Vermont, while safe and beautiful, is segregated from the cultural varieties enjoyed by most other parts of the country. For some native Vermonters, and other people not exposed to different cultures, “sameness” makes them feel safe. On the downside, it promotes avoidance. Too often familiarity makes people turn a blind eye to the changes surrounding them. They deny that disparities, even in Vermont, exist.

Has segregation, or more pointedly, white privilege, clouded their lens so much they cannot see their underrepresented neighbors and their struggles with racism?

As a person of color, let me say that racism pierces our lungs, making it hard to breath, killing us all. It’s a slow death, creeping throughout society. While hidden, it often does so in plain sight. Take for example, when people say, “I am not racist because I have a black friend” or “I am not racist because I have a Mexican or Muslim friend” or “I am not racist because I hired you.”

These self-serving proclamations do not erase hate or racism. Instead, they sharpen the pencil that draws a line between white privilege and people of color. Having a friend of color does not (and should not) be the litmus test for determining racism.

If you are not a person of color, imagine if you were in line for food and someone asked you to step aside so your black friend could be served before you? Would this make you angry? Upset? Would you object or simply comply? Complying gets you fed. But standing up might get you prosecuted or maybe even killed. For people of color, this is not hyperbole.

Think about this: Have you ever been asked “what are you doing in this neighborhood?” Have you ever been hit by gun fire while taking the trash out in your own backyard? Have you even been stopped by the police and told, incorrectly, the car you are driving was reported stolen? Have you ever been mistakenly shot by the police because someone you loved committed a crime? Do you know an adolescent killed during a lawful protest because the police thought he or she was an adult? Have you even had a policeman’s knee on your neck for nine minutes?

NOW, TAKE A DEEP BREATH! That fearless breath you just took, that air that effortlessly filled your lungs, that joy of freedom you experienced, is called privilege. It’s “privilege” because you or someone you know has never experienced these real situations experienced by black and brown people every day.

"To blend in, we smile and ignore the micro-aggressions."

People of color often feel they have no choice but to comply. To blend in, we smile and ignore the micro-aggressions. We “codeswitch” by changing the way we talk or act depending on who we are around. It’s hard to speak the truth for of fear of being ostracized. We push ourselves to work three times harder for that perfect evaluation and become concerned whether bias played a role in the mediocre review.

Understandably, addressing the “isms” (e.g., racism or sexism) is challenging and can lead to anger, frustration, guilt, or shame. But we need to acknowledge that we live in a complex society, made up of distinct layers of differences, like religion, social class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age, and disability. We need to lead with empathy to better understand the experiences of our black and brown communities. We need to learn the skills of overcoming our unconscious biases. Most importantly, we need to work together, engage in uncomfortable conversations, address the unknown, and combat misinformation.

Courageous Equality

The Podcast that challenges our assumptions

Want to learn more about discrimination, racism, or white privilege? Want to expand your understanding of diversity? Want to join the discussion? Check out Courageous Equality!

Courageous Equality is a podcast produced by two of our Special Emphasis Program Managers for the Black Employees Program - TSgt Kirby Addison and SSG Selena Correa. Courageous Equality is a platform designed to help us learn from one another by having the uncomfortable conversations necessary to bring on change and awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion for all.

The podcasts are recorded twice a month and feature guests and thought-provoking conversations.

Email us with questions, comments, or topics you want to discuss. courageousvoicespodcast@gmail.com

Cultural Humility Classes Scheduled for August

Dr. Maria Mercedes Avila, Program Director of UVM’s Vermont Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Program, will lead small groups of our Army and Air members in a two-hour discussion focused on Structural Competence and Cultural Humility.

The term "cultural humility" was introduced in 1998 as a dynamic and lifelong process focusing on self-reflection and personal critique, acknowledging one's own biases. Cultural competence is defined as the ability to engage knowledgeably with people across cultures.

The goal of this training is to increase awareness of racial, ethnic, and class biases. Dr. Avila will provide course members with the tools to think critically about systemic oppression as a foundation for our organization’s continued progress towards cultural competence.

The Equal Opportunity Complaint Process

The Vermont National Guard is updating its equal employment opportunity policy. The flowchart above captures the process.


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