Protesters Throw Stones at National Guardsman

Thursday, March 27, 2003

MONTPELIER, Vt.  A group of Vermont teen-agers threw rocks at a uniformed female Vermont National Guard sergeant last week, in the latest example of a service member facing hostility in the United States.

National Guard spokesman Capt. Jeff Roosevelt said the woman was not injured in Friday's incident, which took place in Plainfield, but said the woman had decided she would no longer wear her uniform outside of work.

"We are a very tolerant state and people in the military also expect to be treated with the same courtesy and respect that we show to others," Lt. Col. Scott Stirewalt, director of security at the Vermont National Guard, told WCAX news.

The teens blocked the sergeant as she went into a store and again on the way out, yelling obscenities at her along the way, Roosevelt said. The group also threw small stones at her car as she drove away, he added.

The sergeant said she believed the protesters had taken part in an anti-war demonstration in Montpelier that day. National Guard troops are often deployed to such events to help keep the peace.

"There were various profanities directed in her direction, along the line of '[expletive] murderer, [expletive] baby killer,'" Stirewalt said. "It culminated with some of the individuals throwing rocks at her, and as testament to her disciplined professionalism, she got in her car and left the area."

Roosevelt called it an "isolated incident."

"For every one that takes place there are hundreds of good deeds being done for Guard members," he said.

Roosevelt said other guard members were told in an e-mail to be careful in public. "It was kind of a heads-up to stay alert. We send warnings like that out all the time."

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chastised the stone throwers, calling the incident "disturbing."

"The process leading to the war in Iraq has generated strong feelings across the nation," said Leahy, co-chairman of the Senate National Guard Caucus. "I know that the great majority of Vermonters would never participate in this type of disrespectful behavior because it is not the Vermont way.

"It is important, especially now, for Vermonters of good will on both sides to show that the Vermont way is to respect one another, regardless of our views about the war."

Leahy noted that the state's National Guard helped thousands of residents there during a huge ice storm in 1998 and in the period following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They also played key roles in both World Wars, the Korean War and Operation Desert Storm.

After news of the Sept. 11 attacks, Vermont's 158th Fighter Wing of the Guard scrambled many of their F-16 fighter jets. Over the next 122 days, at least two of the units patrolled the skies over Washington, D.C. and New York City.

But Friday's incident isn't the only case of a Guard facing harassment in the Green Mountain State.

"A car drove up alongside and honked his horn and stuck his hand out the window and gave us the old proverbial, 'hey, you're No. 1 finger,'" Guardsman Brian Tomblee told WCAX news, referring to an obscene gesture. "I just waved back and said, 'Hey thanks for the support,' and drove on."

Protesters at Friday's anti-war demonstration converged at the statehouse in Montpelier to lobby the governor and the legislature. Just as the anti-war rally started, they were met with more than 30 Republican lawmakers lined up on the upper statehouse steps to sing "God Bless America."

Former Gov. Howard Dean -- who left his post to make a run for the Democratic ticket for president in 2004, regularly and loudly criticizes the Bush administration war effort. He has also criticized fellow Democratic candidates for backing the war.

Under Vermont law, assaulting or abusing a soldier because of membership in the military is a hate crime. Conviction could bring up to five years in prison.

About 15 Vermont Air National Guard security personnel will soon be sent overseas to help fight the war on terror, officials said, and could be deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The deployment will bring the number of Vermonters currently deployed to about 200.

The state's volunteer Guard now has about 4,000 members between the Army and Air National Guard. With a population of just 600,000, that figure represents one of the highest Guard per capita participation rates in the country.

Fox News' Liza Porteus and the Associated Press contributed to this report.