General Assembly debates oversight of Governor's Guard

Hartford — The Governor's Guard, the historical foot guard and horse guard units that are part of the state militia, wants to govern itself as a fraternal organization until called upon for active duty.

But the state adjutant general asserts that would undermine his ability to effectively lead the state's military forces.

The issue was debated at a Feb. 27 public hearing of the state's Veterans Affairs Committee, which has taken up several legislative proposals relating to control over the four units of the Governor's Guards and its structure going forward.

One proposal, House Bill 5237, seeks to remove the units from the adjutant general's control and have the units answer to the governor and state auditors.

"By putting them under the governor, that would delegitimize their role as part of a military organization and delegate them to some kind of ceremonial function," Maj. Gen. Thaddeus Martin, adjutant general of the Connecticut National Guard, testified at the hearing.

Instead, Martin said he is advocating for a proposal, Senate Bill 226, that would allow the adjutant general to begin the process of authoring individual bylaws for each of the four governor's guard units, and to look at the possibility of structuring the units so they're similar to other Army National Guard units.

He offered the example of the horse guard providing a search and rescue capability.

"Another potential use would be if the National Guard were overwhelmed and had to empty out its armories relative to some domestic response, we could mobilize the militia to backfill those positions within those armories to continue some additional level of command and control," he said.

Dennis Conroy, a former commandant of the First Company Governor's Foot Guard, said the proposal is an effort by the Military Department "to control these units on a day to day basis — the finances, the armory."

"Our organization is basically a civilian organization up until the governor through the adjutant general decides to activate our command," Conroy testified at the hearing. "Up until then it's like being a member of the Elks."

According to Conroy, the last time the unit was activated was during the 1955 flood. He acknowledged that many of the members could not pass the physical requirements to be active duty military personnel, but said there was much they could do if called upon that doesn't involve combat.

In addition to the First Company Governor's Foot Guard, there is the Second Company Governor's Foot Guard, based in Branford, and two horse guard units headquartered in Avon and Newtown respectively. All of the units have nonprofit organizations to advance their interests.

The issue is not new.

In fact, many of the proposals before the Veterans Affairs Committee during this short session have been brought up before such as expanding property tax exemptions to certain veterans and renaming Camp Niantic in honor of deceased Army Col. Robert Nett, of Connecticut, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Philippines during World War II.

The committee will hold another public hearing on March 6 at 3 p.m. in Room 1C of the Legislative Office Building.

j.bergman@theday.com

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