Remarks of Senator Leahy: Vermont Mourns The Death Of Master Sergeant Shawn Stocker

After Irene,
The Guard Is There
For Vermonters

Senate Floor
September 22, 2011

Mr. President, I rise today to call the attention of the Senate once again to the loss and the suffering and the disruption experienced by Vermonters in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.  I have discussed several aspects of Vermont’s response to that disaster.  One key component of our response is the skillful and tireless work of the Vermont National Guard. 

It was with profound sadness that I learned yesterday that Master Sergeant Shawn Stocker of the Vermont Air National Guard suffered a fatal heart attack while working on a road reconstruction project in Cavendish, Vermont.  Sergeant Stocker was the First Sergeant of the Vermont Air Guard’s Civil Engineering Squadron.  We in Vermont mourn this tragic loss, and our thoughts and prayers are with Sergeant Stocker's wife, Kristine, and their two children. 

Sergeant Stocker and so many other dedicated members of the Guard have answered the call to help their neighbors in need.  When Sergeant Stocker passed away, his troops gathered to consider how best to honor his memory that day, and they decided to keep working to help their neighbors in Cavendish.  “It is what Shawn would have wanted us to do,” they said.  Sergeant Stocker and these other troops put their country first and do whatever the mission requires. 

From the very beginning of the disaster up until today, the Vermont National Guard has been deployed to help Vermonters in need.  This photo is from a Vermont Guard airdrop of supplies to a Vermont town cut off by storm damage.  In the days following Irene, the Vermont Guard immediately went into action, making sure storm victims cut off by Irene’s destruction received emergency supplies.  Helicopters airdropped food and water.  And of course our Guard leadership reached out to other State Guards, through Vermont’s Emergency Management Assistance Compacts, for help with long-term projects.

This scene depicts one of those projects, and it demonstrates the versatility of the Guard.  In addition to meeting immediate needs, the Vermont Guard has taken on other major projects such as debris removal and road reconstruction.  As in so many other states, when Vermont has a need, our National Guard is there.  Often they are the first to arrive and the last to leave.

We are grateful that many other State Guards have also come to the assistance of Vermonters in need.  Ohio, Maine, West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina, and Illinois are a few of the Guard units that have come to Vermont’s aid.  This is one of the things we love about the National Guard and that helps make the Guard such an effective presence.  When one state needs help, every state steps up to make its equipment and personnel available.

One thing Vermont did need in the immediate aftermath of Irene was helicopters.  It is regrettable that our state needed more airlift in part because many of our Blackhawk helicopters were still in Iraq following a recent deployment.  In this season of war, we should take a moment to remember that troops and equipment sent overseas will not be available to help out here at home when we need them in an emergency.  And like that deployment of equipment, every dollar we spend on conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan is one less dollar we have to invest in recovery and rebuilding here in America.  This is a time to choose investment here at home first. 

The citizens in our states who have suffered because of natural disasters and the men and women of the Guard who come to their aid deserve nothing less. 

Meanwhile, here in Washington, for much of the last decade we have imprudently waged two wars on the nation’s credit card, even pausing to throw ourselves a party in the form of tax breaks tilted toward the very wealthiest among us.  Those policies were wrong.   

And now, after all these years of funding wars and rebuilding other countries overseas, the leadership of the House of Representatives -- in the continuing resolution that body defeated yesterday -- brazenly told the American people that we can no longer afford to come to the aid of Americans in need – our fellow citizens, here at home.  No, now we need to offset the costs of rebuilding America by cutting something that helps someone else.  And are they asking the wealthy to pay their fair share?  Are they asking oil and gas companies who have record profits quarter after quarter to sacrifice any of their tax give-aways?  No, they are not.  This is wrong.  We cannot do this.  We cannot ask these suffering people to sacrifice and refuse to ask those who have the most to contribute their fair share.  We cannot cut programs that are going to create new jobs, and basic safety net help for struggling families and seniors, while giving every break possible to the very wealthiest among us.  It is unconscionable. 

Mr. President, this is not the American way.  In my 37 years in the United States Senate, we always have dealt with disaster bills together, working across the aisle, in a spirit of bipartisanship.  As a nation, we cannot afford to toss aside that tradition.  The decision of some to inject politics and political point-scoring into disaster relief is a new low for a Congress that already is setting records for unfavorability.  

Leader Reid is right to call for a continuing resolution that includes an emergency disaster relief package that will get aid to all 50 states suffering from the effects of unprecedented natural disasters.  I encourage my colleagues here and in the House of Representatives to do the right thing for people who need our help and move forward with Leader Reid’s bill.  Our fellow Americans need this support, and now is the time to act.


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