Troops from the Vermont National Guard spent Thursday preparing to head to Washington, D.C. this weekend, in advance of the arrival of a trucker convoy protesting vaccine mandates and other issues.
“It’s going to be a memorable experience, for sure,” said Specialist Riley Benoit, one of about 100 Vermont Army National Guard soldiers leaving Saturday for a security mission in Washington, D.C.
They’ll join 600 or so Guard members from other states helping the Capitol Police and D.C. National Guard with traffic management.
"It’s what we signed up for, it’s what we’re here to do," Spec. Benoit said. "So we’re happy to do it — whatever we can."
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Remember those trucker protests in Ottawa, Canada that led to blocked bridges and roads there?
Well there’s another trucker convoy of self-described freedom advocates now on its way to the D.C. region to speak out against a range of issues from high fuel prices to COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates to regulations on the trucking industry.
"This is all about making a statement peacefully, within our First Amendment rights — free speech," said Larry LoSchiavo, a participant in the convoy from Pennsylvania, told NBC affiliate WBRE. "We aren’t going to be using vulgarities or anything like that. It’s all about standing up for our rights."
The Guard units want to make sure everything stays flowing safely, officials with the Vermont National Guard said.
Vermonters also helped with security in D.C. around last year’s presidential inauguration, in the wake of the January 6th assault on the Capitol. Unlike that mission, for this assignment, they expect to be unarmed at their traffic posts, Maj. Scott Detweiler of the Vermont National Guard noted.
"We don’t see these demonstrations as a threat," Detweiler told NECN. "But we’re there to make sure there is freedom of transportation, freedom of commerce, that safety for all is preserved while also not disrupting anyone’s freedom of speech."
Congressman Peter Welch Thursday praised the Vermont National Guard’s preparedness.
"I’m so grateful to the Vermont Guard," the Democrat said. "The convoy — if it’s an Ottawa-type situation where it’s all about disruption and interfering with commerce and interfering with people — that’s not right. So we’ll see. If it’s a peaceful demonstration, that’s fine, but we’ve got to be ready."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who chairs the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, said this week he’ll work to make sure funding is there to reimburse the Guard for costs associated with this latest mission.