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Under the command of the state’s own Governor, the Vermont Air National Guard has been blasting the ears and brains of cities full of Vermonters with 115-decibel F-35 jets for nearly 3 years. In May, eight of the state’s twenty F-35s were forward deployed to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany where they continue to participate in a NATO “enhanced air policing mission” in Eastern Europe.

The campaign to protect Vermont’s largest cities from the extreme noise and to prevent them from being used as human shields for the nuclear-capable F-35 jets began 9 years before the jets arrived in 2019. The ongoing campaign has included mass demonstrations, rallies, sit-ins, city-wide votes, the arrest of Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen for driving through Burlington pulling a trailer with a massive 115-decibel sound system blaring, law suits, a widely-circulated 12-minute film, and a complaint to the Inspector General signed by 657 Vermonters.

Earlier this month a US Air Force General ordered F-35 jets from an Air Force base in Florida to join in the vicious daily 115-decibel assaults on Vermonters. The opposition campaign sent an “Open Letter to Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Geraghty, Commander, Eglin Air Force Base,” dated July 9, 2022 calling on the General to “immediately abort the planned F-35 training flights in densely populated Vermont cities.”

Six years before the jets arrived, the US Air Force Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) said the homes of 6,663 civilians, including some 1,300 children, would be repeatedly exposed to the extreme noise in the Air Force identified oval-shaped F-35 noise target zone centered on the runway at Burlington International Airport.

Volume II of the Air Force EIS also admitted that repeated exposure to military aircraft noise at the 115-decibel level of the F-35 can damage hearing. It also admitted that aircraft noise even at the much lower levels produced at busy civilian airports can impair the learning and cognitive development of children.

Local news media reported the pain and suffering caused by the actual F-35 training in densely populated Vermont cities. Among the articles on VTDigger, “Panic attacks. Ringing ears. Shaking walls. Happy 1-year anniversary to the F-35s,” “Pandemic isolation and increased flights spike F-35 noise complaints,” and “Winooski area residents voice their opposition to F-35 training flights.” Channel 5 TV news reported, “F-35 forum in Winooski brings out residents to voice concerns about jet presence.” A Seven Days cover story, “Sound Effects: In the F-35’s Flight Path, Vermonters’ Lives Have Changed.” The 12-minute film “Jet Line, Voicemails from the Flight Path” gave voice and series of report and complaint form surveys allowed hundreds of Vermonters to describe the effects.

training ground

Totally illegal: The military’s own rules are violated

The 115-decibel F-35 training in Vermont cities violates the military’s own regulations, including each one of the fundamental law of war principles. For example, Department of Defense Directive 2311.01 states,

It is DoD policy that: Members of the DoD Components comply with the law of war during all armed conflicts, however characterized. In all other military operations, members of the DoD Components will continue to act consistent with the law of war’s fundamental principles and rules, which include those in Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the principles of military necessity, humanity, distinction, proportionality, and honor.

No exception to the rules for training

If military regulations are not scrupulously enforced during training, pilots are actually taught to ignore or violate those regulations. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that no less an authority than the Joint Chiefs of Staff includes training as an “operation” along with such other military actions as strategic, operational, and tactical military missions (p. 159). Which leaves commanders zero room to legally deviate from acting consistent with the law of war’s fundamental principles and rules during training in Vermont with F-35 jets.

Targeting civilians

Instead, however, the Governor and Vermont National Guard commanders have been violating each and every one of the law of war’s fundamental principles and rules with impunity. A free-for-all of physical abuse, pain, injury, and suffering on a mass scale from hundreds of F-35 training flights a month in Vermont cities.

Airmen are training to commit war crimes

The illegal training with the F-35 in cities gets airmen used to hurting civilians so they may accept orders to carry out heinous war crimes in ongoing and future US wars. It is training to commit war crimes.

  • Violate “distinction”–Distinction requires maintaining separation of military forces from populated areas. Intermingling 115 decibel F-35 jets with the state’s most densely populated cities of Burlington, Winooski, and South Burlington is the exact opposite.
  • Violate “honor”–the Vermont Air National Guard is knowingly, deliberately, and intentionally using cities full of civilians as human shields for the nuclear-capable F-35.
  • Violate “military necessity”–the Air Force admitted that no military necessity requires training in any city. Along with the Vermont city location, its F-35 Environmental Impact Statement identified 5 other locations, all remote from populated areas, where the F-35 basing and training flights could effectively be conducted. Locations that had longer runways and better training airspace than the Vermont location. That is how the US Air Force admitted that the location in Vermont cities is a matter of mere convenience, not military necessity.
  • Violate “proportionality”–an operation must be aborted if the anticipated harm to civilians is disproportionate to the military advantage. But conducting F-35 training in a city provides zero military advantage as compared to training from a runway remote from populated areas. The Department of Defense Law of War Manual includes the requirement to take feasible precautions to protect the civilian population before launching a military operation as part of proportionality. Yet, neither the Vermont Guard nor the Air Force took the reasonable feasible precaution of locating the F-35 training at a runway remote from populated areas. Nor did they sound-insulate a single one of the 2,963 households and 7 schools the US Air Force EIS identified in the F-35 noise target zone.
  • Violate “humanity”–Designed for stealth, supersonic flight, and high-G maneuvers, the F-35 was not designed for city life. By training with the F-35 in cities, commanders use it in a manner for which it was not designed that causes unnecessary suffering on a mass scale.
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Fraud, waste, and abuse on steroids

Because the F-35 training in Vermont cities blatantly violates each and every one of the military’s own regulations, the training deeply corrupts the airmen involved and their units. While Articles 90, 91, and 92 of the Universal Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) requires airmen to comply only with legal orders, so far not one airman has openly refused to participate in the illegal F-35 training in Vermont cities. But that day may be coming.

Racism and classism

Nearly all the 6,663 people living in the F-35 target zone are white working class, BIPOC, or immigrant. The homes of Vermont’s wealthy classes are entirely absent from the F-35 noise target zone. The Air Force EIS admitted that the F-35 training in Vermont would “disproportionately impact low income and minority populations.” F-35 training in Vermont is not just illegal. It is also state-sponsored racist and classist violence.

Especially consider these facts about the City of Winooski: The runway aims at Winooski one mile away. Most of the city is in the Air Force designated noise target zone. 23% of Winooski residents are people of color, nearly four times the ratio for Vermont as a whole. 22% are foreign born and more than 20 languages spoken, while for Vermont fewer than 5% are foreign born. Nearly 30% of Winooski’s population lives in poverty, triple Vermont’s 10% poverty rate. 63% of Winooski’s 3,259 homes are rental, close to double the rate for Vermont. In Winooski 17% of people under 65 have a disability, while for Vermont 11% have one. 97.9% of the 774 children in Winooski’s K‑12 public schools are on free or reduced-price lunch, while for the state 38% of the children are.

Democracy denied: State officials foisted the F-35 on cities against the will of the people

Along with the Governor and the military commanders, both of Vermont’s US Senators and the state’s sole Congressman share responsibility for foisting the F-35 basing on Vermont cities against the will of the people. Voters adopted resolutions on town meeting ballots in Burlington in 2018 and in Winooski in 2021 calling for “cancellation of the F-35 basing” and calling for “a halt to the training flights in a densely populated area” respectively. The Burlington resolution won with 55.4% despite a massive $100,000 campaign against it. The Winooski resolution won with 67.1%.

The F-35 blocks housing

Here in Vermont the 115-decibel F-35 is responsible for keeping 44 acres of land facing the airport, where 200 homes were demolished because of F-16 noise, vacant of housing. Once the F-35 departs, under FAA grant assurances, the airport must sell that land for desperately-needed housing, including affordable rental housing.

The F-35 is a climate killer

Each F-35 burns 22 gallons of jet fuel per minute in straight and level flight, 1,340 gallons an hour. The Pentagon admits that global warming is a national security threat. Yet, the US military is the single largest user of fossil fuels on the planet, as described in the Brown University, Watson Institute study, “Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War.”

The F-35 does not abolish the fossil fuel industry. Instead, the F-35 actively promotes expansion of the fossil fuel industry: The F-35 is a climate killer.

The F-35 does not protect Vermont from a warming climate, mega storms, pandemics, racism, job loss, cyber-attacks, nuclear missiles, terrorism, food insecurity, or income inequality.

The F-35 cannot protect people or planet from sea level rise, famine, mass extinctions, ocean acidification, wildfires, temperature extremes, diminished access to fresh water, and deforestation.

The F-35 cannot prevent mass migration and wars caused by climate change.

War is not the answer

Nor can the F-35 protect black, brown, indigenous, women, LGBTQ, immigrants, refugees, or veterans.

The F-35 program drains $1.7 trillion from health care, education, affordable housing, infrastructure, and preventing more global pandemics. As military spending creates far fewer jobs per billion dollars spent than money spent on any of those things, the F-35 is a jobs killer.

  • The F-35 does not take on the billionaire class.
  • The F-35 does not raise the minimum wage or facilitate organizing workers into unions.
  • The F-35 does not take on white nationalists.
  • The F-35 does not drive money out of politics.
  • The F-35 does not abolish voter suppression.
  • The F-35 does not abolish tuition and student debt.
  • The F-35 does not stop inflation. Nor can it prevent a recession.

Fourth Estate falls flat

The Fourth Estate adequately covered the pain, injury, and distress produced by the F-35. But widely circulated print and broadcast news media has so far failed to investigate whether or not Department of Defense Directive 2311.01, Air Force Policy Directive 51-4 (par. 1.7), and Air Force Targeting Doctrine (p. 66-69) are violated by the F-35 training flights in cities. Or whether or not the US Constitution (Art 1, sec 8, cl 16) and US federal law give the states, and not the federal government, command and control of the training of state national guard units. Or whether the Constitution goes on to require the states to conduct their national guard training “according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” Or whether Congress set that discipline as the above-mentioned military regulations that protect civilians.

Thus, the constitutional right of the people to be protected from state national guard training operations—and the federal law and military regulations implementing that right—remain covered up. Which means the cruel assaults on Vermont cities are not widely recognized as illegal. Allowing the law breaking by the Governor and by military commanders to continue.

A mass campaign is needed

Madison Wisconsin is next for illegal F-35 basing and training. Other cities will follow. A nation-wide mass campaign is needed to put a stop to the state-sponsored F-35 assaults on working class, BIPOC, and immigrant families in Vermont cities and to prevent the spread of the illegal, immoral, and unjust F-35 to more places.