Gray, Kurrle to join Vermont Guard in North Macedonia diplomatic efforts

press conference
Lt. Gov Molly Gray speaks at a press conference at Camp Johnson in Colchester on Thursday, joined by Secretary of Commerce Lindsay Kurrle (left) and Adjutant General Greg Knight of the Vermont National Guard (right). Photo by Seamus McAvoy/VTDigger

Most Vermonters haven’t traveled very far in the past year — not even state legislators, who last week closed an unprecedented remote session

But on Saturday, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray and Secretary of Commerce Lindsay Kurrle are headed to the Balkans. 

Gray and Kurrle will join Greg Knight, adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, on a weeklong diplomatic mission to North Macedonia to build on the 28-year partnership between the country and the Guard. The trip’s focus will be on expanding the military-to-military partnership to include economic opportunities between North Macedonia and Vermont. 

“Vermont does many things extremely well, and this will provide an opportunity to grow and mature our partnership in sharing best practices, expertise and innovation,” Knight said. 

Vermont began its partnership with North Macedonia in 1993, shortly after the country gained independence, as part of the Guard-wide State Partnership Program. In 2008, Vermont entered its second state partnership with Senegal. 

The National Guard now has 84 partnerships worldwide. 

What makes North Macedonia and Vermont a good fit? The two regions share parallels with regard to climate, topography and economic interests, Knight said.   

North Macedonia, home to about 2 million people, is located on the Balkan peninsula just north of Greece. The country is mostly rural, and has rugged terrain with mountain ranges that frame the central Vardar River. 

Like Vermont, the country’s agriculture sector is one of the strongest components of its economy. North Macedonia is also looking to build out a fully developed trail system, along the lines of the Catamount Trail system at home. 

North Macedonia is making strides in business and private industry. The country obtained NATO membership in March 2020, and is in talks to join the European Union.

“They are a small country, much like our brave little state, that is looking to use those world-class outdoor recreation assets to help drive their economy,” Kurrle said. “I hope our experience here in Vermont will translate to useful advice, ideas and connections.” 

Vermont National Guard officers have served two- to three-year terms in the U.S. Embassy of North Macedonia since 1993, most recently Maj. Nathan Fry. 

Knight made his first trip to the country as a captain in 2002. As he’s risen in the ranks with the Guard, so have the counterparts he met on his first tour, many of whom are now senior officials in North Macedonia’s army. 

“We’ve come up in the organization together, and have been sharing best practices for that time,” Knight said.  

Officials see the economic component of the trip as an extension of the nearly three decades of diplomatic efforts.

“Economic security is critical to long-term peace and security,” Gray said, whether in response to an armed conflict or a humanitarian crisis. 

Vermont’s team will meet with leaders in agriculture, business and higher education to share expertise, and strengthen a partnership they see as mutually beneficial. 

Whether any specific Macedonian products will be on local shelves anytime soon is still to be determined. 

“I understand that they make pine syrup, which I’ve never tried, but it’s something I hope we’ll experience while we’re over there,” Kurrle said. 

Fallen heroes rededication 

On Thursday, the Vermont National Guard rededicated the Fallen Heroes Memorial at Camp Johnson in Colchester, which has been moved outside the fort’s gates. 

The relocation, which kept the memorial unchanged, allows easier access for the public and for the families of fallen Vermont Guardsmen. 

Former governor Jim Douglas, who presided over the original memorial dedication on Sept. 11, 2008, spoke to a crowd of Gold Star families and unveiled a commemorative brick to signify the memorial’s rededication. 

Gov. Phil Scott also spoke, and Knight placed a wreath honoring fallen service members at the base of the memorial. 

“Today, after a year of hearing about sacrifice, let us thank all those heroes who never made it home,” Scott said. “We can never do enough to honor you, but saying thank you is a perfect place to start.”

Correction: This story was updated to make clear that North Macedonia is located in the Balkans.

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Seamus McAvoy

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